Why The Theory of Compatibilism Falls Short

change_mindThere is no shortage of speculation as to the nature of man in relation to the sovereignty of God.  I call it “speculation” because for the most part much of this discussion is just that, “speculative.”  The scripture was not written by Jonathan Edwards or CS Lewis.  It does not clearly lay out all the in-depth philosophical workings of infinitely divine characteristics as they relate to the finite world.  That in itself should be a clue as to what God wants us to understand about the subject.

He may inspire anthropomorphic language, but consider the reason He did so.  To make the infinite simple for us to grasp, right?  So, what makes us think we need to undue what God did by complicating it with our confounding theories?  Why not understand God in the manner He chose to reveal himself? Ever wonder why it was okay with God for the scripture’s author to say that God “changed his mind,” but for some reason that is not acceptable today unless we add a five thousand word dissertation as a qualification explaining that is not really what is meant?

With that said, I would like to offer a simple explanation as to why I reject some of the philosophical speculations being popularized today.  For the sake of brevity, I want to focus this post specifically on my ever-growing doubts about the philosophical view call “compatibilism” (a view most often held to by Calvinistic believers).  This view claims that one can affirm free will (as they define it) and divine determinism, as these two are considered “compatible” according to the claims of this perspective.Gen-1825

Compatibilists (Calvinists) attempt to maintain that men are free in the sense that they are “doing what they desire.”  However, this appears to be an insufficient explanation to maintain any sense of true freedom considering that compatibilists also affirm that even the desires and thoughts of men are decreed by God. (i.e. WCF: “God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass.”)

This is an important circularity in the claim by Calvinists that humans can be considered genuinely free so long as their actions are in accordance with their desires (i.e. “voluntary”).  Given the long-held Calvinistic belief that all events and actions are decreed by God, then human desire (the very thing that compatibilists claim allows human choices to be considered free) must itself also be decreed. But if so, then there is nothing outside of or beyond God’s decree on which human freedom might be based. 

Put differently, 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 freedom. When you define freedom in terms of ‘doing what one wants to do’, it initially appears plausible only because it subtly evokes a sense of independence or ownership on the part of the human agent for his 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, I 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).

puppetleavesSome compatibilists, such as John Hendryx on monergism.com, do not refute these arguments, but simply embrace them by admitting that compatibilism is “no less deterministic than hard determinism.”  And compatibilism “simply means that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is ‘compatible’ with voluntary choice.”  In other words, he is virtually saying “Mankind is doing what they want and what they want is determined by God, so get over it, He is God and can do whatever He wants!”

If I cast a spell on John causing him to desire what I decided that he should desire, would he still deem his own choices to be voluntary? I seriously doubt it, but if God virtually does the same thing, then the term “voluntary” is acceptable, I guess?  It is quite baffling.

Think about it.  According to this premise, guys like Jeffrey Dahmer “voluntarily” molested and ate his victims because God unchangeably determined for him to desire it.  James 1:13 teaches God does not even tempt men to do evil, yet Hendryx wants us to believe God unchangeably determined our desires which in turn determine our choices to do evil? Really?  Why would anyone want to go with that answer rather than to simply appeal to mystery? Anthropomorphism is looking better and better, isn’t it?

Hendryx’s rebuttal to these types of questions is to point people to God’s determination of the crucifixion, “the worse evil of all time.” His argument goes something like this: If God determined the worse evil of all time without blame then we should be able to accept that God can determine all evil events without blame.  First, I have no problem ‘blaming,’ or should I say ‘crediting,’ God with the redemption of sin as accomplished through the crucifixion!  While I agree that God did determine the cross by actively intervening in our fallen world to ensure it came to pass, I fail to see how that proves God likewise determined and actively worked to bring about all the sin that needed redemption on that cross.  Are we to believe God determined to redeem his very own determinations? Again, it is quite a baffling perspective and I’m not sure how it is somehow better than the alternative of appealing to the mystery of God’s infinite ways.  Give me God’s inspired anthropomorphisms over that any day!  I’ll gladly live with people accusing me of being too “simple minded” to accept such audacious speculations about our Holy God.’

source: Leighton Flowers (soteriology101).


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