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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Free Will II

Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists share a definition of free will I previously called libertarian freedom. This freedom, simply defined, would be: the freedom to do, in any given situation, any action or lack of action. That is, one can choose to do something or not to do that something in any situation. For example, if a person is asking me to tell them some information about troop locations, I can choose to tell them or not. No matter what the pressures, tortures, etc may be that are thrust upon me, I am free to tell or not to tell as I will. This is libertarian free will – a free will the Arminian claims we have, and a free will the hyper-Calvinist claims we do not have.

Yet I also would claim we do not have this “free will”, because I hold it does not exist and has never existed – not because it is intentionally not present in creation, but because it ignores something we all agree we have – inclination. This free will would demand not only that I can do anything in any situation, but that I might actually do anything. It holds that I, as I sit with a man next to me on the bus, could decide to pull out my .38 and shoot him dead on the spot. With this freedom to do anything, I am just as likely to do this as not, actually. For if I am free to do it, and not restricted, why wouldn’t I? “Libertarian Free Will” s actually what I will hereafter call “freedom of indifference”. Because it holds that we can do anything at any time, it is indifferent to the situation and inclination.

What is it that prevents me from putting a fist through my monitor right now? It is simple – I don’t want to. In fact, in almost every situation in life, I am neither going to want to shoot a man on the bus next to me, nor put my fist through my computer. And thus, I will not. So, this freedom cannot be – I must not be free to do this act, because I don’t want to.

You who read are free, right now, to dump a glass of water on your keyboard as you read. But you won’t, right? So how can you be free to do it, if you won’t? You see, your inclination in the situation drives your decision completely. Thus you are not free to do anything, but you are certainly free to do what you want to do, which while it may vary from ceasing to read this post to continuing, will not include pouring water on the keyboard. Of course, you may decide to “prove me wrong” and pour water on your keyboard, but at that point, hasn’t your inclination changed? Isn’t what you most want to do to prove me wrong?

You have discovered the freedom I claim we have – not freedom of indifference, a random, who-knows-what-I-might-do-next freedom, but a freedom of inclination. You are free to do exactly what you most want to do. Here’s another example: You are strongly opposed to stealing. In most situations, you will not steal. Yet your mother is kidnapped by some criminals who tell you that you must participate in a robbery or she will die, so you do. In both cases, you do exactly what you most want to do – in the first you refuse to steal, in the second your inclination to preserve your mother’s life is greater than your inclination against stealing, and you most want her to live, so you steal.

This is compatibilist freedom, a freedom that recognizes that you do in every instance exactly what you most want to do. Right now I have no chance of willfully chopping off my hand – none. Thus, I am actually not free to chop it off! Yet a freedom of indifference would demand that I am as likely to chop off my hand as not.

The Arminian is committed to freedom of indifference, and because of his desire that it exist, he denies that God wills us to commit any act. Freedom of indifference is something the hyper-Calvinist thinks free will is, and (rightfully) denies it exists. He recognizes that God is sovereign, and thus we cannot have as likely a chance of doing something as not doing it. Thus, he concludes, that we are not free at all. The consequences of this are completely logical. If I am not free, whatever I do must be what I am supposed to do, and I am not responsible for my actions. If God is sovereign in his election, I don’t need to obey Christ’s commands to go and tell – and in fact, when I don’t, it is because God wills I don’t, and thus I am not accountable.

It is completely logical – yet it misses something. The hyper-Calvinist does not want to obey. He does not want to evangelize. So in both cases, he is not merely doing what God wills – he is doing what he himself wills – and we can certainly agree that my will and desires are not conformed to be exactly what God’s are!

Think about it – Jesus condemns us not for committing adultery, but for lusting in our hearts. We are condemned for our inclinations that lead to our actions, not our actions. We are condemned for our unbelief, not our failure to say the right words. We are condemned for our failure to love God and our neighbor, not because we didn’t do something for God or our neighbor. Of course, when we commit those sins of action and inaction, we commit them because they are exactly what we most want to do.

It may sound odd, but I believe it makes perfect sense. Furthermore, I hold that it is entirely Scriptural. With the next post I will demonstrate its Scriptural basis – so I ask commenters to try to hold back on demanding that until then.

5 Comments:

  • Hammer,

    "This is compatibilist freedom, a freedom that recognizes that you do in every instance exactly what you most want to do."

    There is a problem with this definition, though - it is circular. You define freedom as "doing what you most want", and "what you most want" as what you actually do. That is, the only way to judge what someone's strongest desire was is to see their actions. Therefore, this freedom means nothing more than doing what you are observed, in fact, to have done. There is no freedom here - you have merely moved the question higher up the chain. Are we, in this picture, in any way free to want something different? If the answer is No then there is no freedom here, not in any meaningful sense. We are slaves to our desires, and are unable to change those desires.

    You might be surprised to know that I actually entirely agree with you in rejecting the form of libertarian freedom you describe, and on similar grounds. It's not actually freedom, merely randomness. Your description, though, is weakened because you subdivide calvinism but treat arminianism as a monolithic whole. Just as definitions of freedom vary within the "God controls us" camp, so too do they vary in the "God does not control us" camp.

    "Jesus condemns us not for committing adultery, but for lusting in our hearts. We are condemned for our inclinations that lead to our actions, not our actions."

    I'd disagree with you here. Lust is not an inclination - it's an action. I am, at pretty much all times and places, attracted to pretty women; I am inclined towards them. It's only when this turns into the action of lust that it becomes sinful. Lust is only sinful because it involves doing something, even if it's within my own heart. Our actions need not be external. Thoughts are actions, too. That was, in part, Jesus' point. He wasn't saying, "You'll be condemned even if you don't do anything wrong." No, He was saying, "You've heard that sin is only what you do to other people, but I tell you that even your private thoughts can be sinful."

    "[The hyper-Calvinist says:] If I am not free, whatever I do must be what I am supposed to do, and I am not responsible for my actions. If God is sovereign in his election, I don’t need to obey Christ’s commands to go and tell – and in fact, when I don’t, it is because God wills I don’t, and thus I am not accountable."

    You disagree with the hyper-calvinists because they say that we are not free to do what we want. The problem I have with your position is that you then go on to say that we are free to do what we want - but not free to want what we want. In other words, although you start out by saying that we are free, you then remove freedom once more from the picture. Your freedom is actually no more free than the hyper-Calvinist's.

    If our actions are controlled totally by whatever it is that we most want at that moment, we are in no way free. We are simply controlled by our desires - and cannot to change that (even by desiring it to change!). All you have done is to move the control up a level. We are still unable to choose to change our minds, to act according to considered reflection. I have no problem saying that our instant reactions are controlled by our desires (and be no less sinful for that). But extending this to all of our actions seems to me to be too much. When we think through our actions, is this an illusion? If we are simply controlled by our strongest desire, why do we go through such agonies of choice? Why do we debate eating that cream cake, or volunteering for that job at church?

    In your rejection of extreme libertarian freedom (which is effectively randomness) you make one important observation - that our inclinations strongly affect our choices. You go on to claim that our actions are totally controlled by our strongest inclination - I could not go that far with you. Our inclinations bias our choices, they make it more likely that we will choose one way rather than another. Indeed, they may make it effectively impossible to make certain choices. What they cannot do without logical fallacy is to control our actions totally and yet leave us somehow "free".

    There is another crucial point that is often missed in discussions about this subject, which is that our freedom to choose is not total. We are never free to act in any way at all in a given situation. We can only choose from a small palette of options - we can turn left or turn, we can't fly up; we can give money to the beggar or not, we can't eliminate beggars. We are contingent, limited creatures, and our freedom reflects this. But it is freedom nonetheless. Without the freedom to choose our actions, we cannot be truly responsible for them.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger JohnP, at 6/01/2007 04:32:00 AM  

  • Hammer,

    It seems to me that you’ve erected a ‘straw man’—or perhaps a ‘straw boy’. In fairness to you, though, Jonathan Edwards did the same thing: he took ‘free will’ to it’s logical, absurd conclusion, by demonstrating that, for example, one cannot fly unassisted, not even if one wanted to. That’s fine, but when ordinary people (i.e. non-philosophers) think of ‘free will’, they presumably think of the freedom to do as they please, which is limited to the realm of the possible. I’m fairly confident that only the smallest minority actually thinks that ‘free will’ means “that we can do anything at any time, it is indifferent to the situation and inclination.”

    Your definition of freedom, “a freedom of inclination”, being “free to do exactly what you most want to do”, is problematic when examined in light of God’s Word, but not in an obvious way. That is, the Bible—as well as our intuitions—suggests that we tend to do, essentially, only what we want to do. The problem, however, is with the “free” part of the equation. If, for example, she wants something contrary to God’s Will, an irreconcilable conflict immerges. Since, obviously, both cannot have their way at the same time and in the same circumstance, either she gets to freely exercise her will, or God does; it simply cannot go both ways.

    The Bible teaches that God, as the Sovereign, not only freely exercises His will, but that He has, with predetermination, formulated a Plan that encapsulates the whole of human history, even before He created anything! Therefore, any and every desire—which affects action, and inaction—that one has in the course of a life-time must necessarily conform to God’s Will, which predates human existence. In practical reality, this is worked-out by God, who shapes (if you will) our will and desires, so that everyone wants to do according to God’s immutable Will (in fact, there’s a verse in one of Paul’s epistles that says exactly that, but I won’t cite it here). John got it precisely right (perhaps unintentionally) when he wrote:

    ”If our actions are controlled totally by whatever it is that we most want at that moment, we are in no way free. We are simply controlled by our desires - and cannot to change that (even by desiring it to change!)”

    Also, the Bible mentions specific prophesies that involve thoughts, desires, and actions of individual humans, each one possessed of a will. Certainly, we all have a will…it’s just not free (i.e. not under our control). Think of it this way: if one could actually act freely, in such a way that said action is, theoretically, diametrically opposed to God’s Plan, then God, by foreknowledge, would be forced to tailor His Plan to the will of mere creatures (this is, incidentally, the view of some Armenians that I’ve encountered). For instance, if Pharaoh had been inclined (as opposed to having had his “heart hardened” by God, as the Bible claims) to release the Hebrews at Moses’ first request, then there’d have been no Passover, which would have seriously affected the Jewish narrative, not to mention the symbolism of Jesus’ pre-ordained atoning work on the cross. Now, multiply that by the innumerable actions of many trillions of actors that have acted, and have yet to act…and indeed have yet to be born! The logical consequence would be that God’s so-called “plan” is nothing more than a historical account—pre-written, in anticipation—of free and willful human activity; if true, then the Bible is erroneous.

    Lastly, a clarification: in a comment to the previous post, I somewhat reluctantly placed myself in the “hyper-Calvinist” category, for the sake of argument; but in light of your characterization of it in this post, it no longer resembles my view (if never did, actually, which you alluded to). I’m thinking specifically of this assertion:

    ”The hyper-Calvinist does not want to obey. He does not want to evangelize. So in both cases, he is not merely doing what God wills – he is doing what he himself wills…

    I don’t know any self-identified hyper-Calvinists personally (though I’ve been mistaken for one), but it’s hard to imagine that a serious, “professing and confessing” believer would intentionally “not want to obey”. I like to think of God’s Will as a river: it’s current is strong enough to carry everything within its purview to the sea; and it’s impossible to resist! When Jesus implored his disciples (and us) to “go”, I’m quite sure He was cognizant of His Father’s power of persuasion. So no, I can’t agree “that my will and desires are not conformed to be exactly what God’s are”, mainly because His Will trumps my will…and everyone else’s, too. The creature’s will necessarily conforms to God’s Will, in order to—among other things—preserve the integrity of His eternal Plan. I’m not sure how you can reconcile competing wills…especially when one of them is God’s!

    By Blogger Robert, at 6/01/2007 08:16:00 PM  

  • Gentlemen,
    Thank you for your insightful comments! Thank you also for your patience, as preaching takes more of my time and mental energy than I predicted.

    John,
    “Your reasoning is circular.” Yes, it certainly appears that way right now. I deny it is circular, but instead would agree that it cannot be disproven. It would be circular if I said that we only do what we most want, and what me most want is defined by what we do. Instead, I contend that what we most want is demonstrated in what we do. I feel my examples show that we do, in fact, do what we most want to at the moment, and would be interested in a counter-hypothetical to demonstrate otherwise.
    Lust and adultery example – I agree with your delineation of the thought action versus the inclination. It is a poor example of an inclination – but a good example of sin. I will chew on the potential to change “freedom of inclination” to “freedom of desire”…

    Limited freedom – I didn’t mention it because I thought it obvious!

    Finally, clarification on the definition. Note that I never said that our desires do not change. I never said that they are not influenced. We debate over what to do because we are seeking to understand what our desires are and if they should change. In defining freedom of inclination, I show that we are free to do exactly what we want at any given time. I may want to work hard today, but not tomorrow. We are free to change our mind in several ways. Do I think there is some limitation upon this? Yes, because I believe in original sin imputed to humanity. However, I am free to choose to be inclined toward the Yankees or (horror of horrors) the Mets. In fact, I did choose to change that particular inclination as a teenager.

    If you didn’t get a chance to look at the link Robert left in the last post’s comments, it’s worth the read. It made me think hard, but I think I’ve escaped the traps most compatibilist ideas fall victim to.
    I have lumped all Arminians into a single category – because they all deny God chooses without human permission. Thus, while many suggest some level of freedom, they all eliminate God from the decision making process. Not entirely, of course – they agree that man cannot say yes unless God says yes to the relationship. Where they all separate from Calvinists is that they think God can say yes to the relationship but man can say no. Robert and I would both disagree. While he and I also both eschew the labels we have in this discussion, because neither of us are disciples of Calvin, for the sake of simplicity we’ll agree we represent the sets of Calvinist and hyper-Calvinist.
    There are some Arminians that will get some good press in the next post, though…

    Robert,
    Great stuff! I understand the tension in the definition. One thing is certain – denial of free will is cleaner. I would repeat my comment to John, that Edwards and I both understand that libertarian free will is a freedom of indifference not to reality, but to desire and situational influences. A man at a street corner always can step into the street, but sometimes he does and sometimes he does not. What determines the difference in order for free will to exist? According to libertarian free will, he must be as free to step out in front of the bus as not. Edwards and I stand that he is not free to step out in front of the bus unless he doesn’t see it or has a serious mental issue. His desire to live will prevent him from stepping out in front of the bus. What I hold is that he is free to do what he most wishes – in this case, not to be flattened. He is not free to do what he does not wish – not be flattened.

    I promise to define how my freedom complies with the seeming scriptural conflict you mention. I am excited that it seems to be something that hasn’t been presented fully to you yet. Edwards, for his prolific writing and godly character, does not do a whole lot of Scriptural proofs. As I am reading through a series of his on Christian Knowledge, I am amazed that he quotes so little scripture, and primarily argues from reason, with a few scriptural supports.
    The conformity of the will. Yes, of course, no one can resist God’s will. Yet, when presented with Scriptural command breathed out by God to go and tell, one who refuses to go and tell is certainly not acting as God commands. Is it God’s will to allow you to resist? Yes. Thus, you are completely in compliance with the actual will of God for what you personally will do, but still stand against the command of God. The difference in our theology is not that we disagree that the word is a command, that we must obey, and that you sin in not doing it – the difference is that I say you are completely culpable, and you say you are not because “who can resist His will?” We stand on that difference (as applicable to my sins as yours, of course) because of our differing ideas of freedom.

    While I might go on here to try to construct a purely philosophical defense of how God’s will and yours conflict or not here, it is far more efficient for me to save that for the following post with the Scriptural proof. I hope you’ll not have to wait too long for it!

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 6/09/2007 10:47:00 PM  

  • I’m happy to wait for the next installment…a couple of points, though:

    His desire to live will prevent him from stepping out in front of the bus. What I hold is that he is free to do what he most wishes – in this case, not to be flattened. He is not free to do what he does not wish – not be flattened.

    This assumes that God has no conflicting desire! If, for example, God desired that he shall be flattened, then his desire is powerless (insert supportive Scriptural reference here). Actually, God would cause him to desire that which He has first desired. There’s simply no room for the type of freedom that you describe… in light of God’s all-encompassing Plan.

    Yet, when presented with Scriptural command breathed out by God to go and tell, one who refuses to go and tell is certainly not acting as God commands.

    So, Pharaoh’s obstinate refusal to obey the Scriptural command breathed out by God to “let my people go” was an example of Pharaoh thwarting God’s Will?

    When the Pharisees conspired to murder an innocent Jesus, (obviously against the sixth Commandment) were they, in fact, acting contrary to the Will of God?

    Or, could it be that God uses man’s fallen nature (among other things) as a means to accomplish His pre-determined ends?

    By Blogger Robert, at 6/11/2007 08:04:00 PM  

  • Hammer,
    "I contend that what we most want is demonstrated in what we do"

    Indeed. But you also say that what we do is controlled by what we want. That's the apparent circularity. Circular arguments can be true, but they're uninteresting. Even if this argument was true (which I doubt) it doesn't actually get us anywhere in understanding why we act in the way that we do because it reduces to "we do what we do".

    "I never said that our desires do not change"

    So, if we can change our desires, on what basis do we do so? Surely (by your argument), we can only act according to our desires. So, we can change our desires only if we want to - so where does that desire come from? It's still circular.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger JohnP, at 6/12/2007 04:36:00 AM  

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