Debate on Calvinistic Compatibilism Part 17: Derek Responds


I believe you are stating the issues correctly. As requested, I am going to quote from your previous post and respond directly. This post will be an initial response to some of your preliminary comments and questions, and the next post will be directed to your seven question groups. There were several paragraphs following the questions, which may also spark some responses. So, I’m envisioning at least three posts by way of response to your full set of questions and comments from May 17. Here is the first part:

You said: I think you are having trouble recognizing the most basic implications of your view.

If by this you mean that I, as a compatibilist, fail to recognize that compatibilism is self-contradictory and refuse to accept the obvious truth of the incompatibilist viewpoint, then I agree — I am definitely having trouble recognizing this. But this would be similar to an atheist telling a theist, “You obviously don’t recognize the implications of your view, because if there was a God there could be no evil in the world; and since there is evil, there cannot be a God; don’t you see the logic here?” Of course, the theist doesn’t see the logic and will demonstrate that his position accepts and incorporates the existence of evil. He sees this as consistent with the view that God exists–something the atheist can neither comprehend nor accept (this is just an illustration; I am not at all implying you are an atheist!).

You said: I cannot accept your “standard definition” from Stanford because it hardly comes close to truly describing the philosophical and logical distinctives of compatibilism.

I am not asking you to agree with compatibilism as defined by the Stanford philosophers. I am asking you to recognize that they have provided a standard definition of the term, which fits perfectly with the way I am using it. This was in response to your claim that I am using my own special definitions. Are the Stanford folks using a special definition, too? It would seem that one is either a compatibilist or an incompatibilist (or perhaps one might claim to be agnostic on the question). I am certainly not an incompatibilist, and definitely not agnostic regarding this; so, although I may not explain compatibilism in the way you are accustomed to hearing it, I am nevertheless a compatibilist. I have not claimed to be an Edwardsian compatibilist (and certainly not a Humean compatibilist), and in fact have advised caution in accepting anyone’s extra-Biblical theory of how it all works. I am a compatibilist to the extent that I see it as Biblically necessary and Biblically defensible. This is not to say I agree with every philosopher’s version of compatibilism, or even the current prevailing view. I am simply saying I view determinism and free will as non-contradictory.

You said: It merely says compatibilism is the view that says determinism, free-will and moral responsibility are all compatible.

Yes, exactly. That is precisely the point. This is the definition of a compatibilist as opposed to an incompatibilist. It’s a straightforward definition that is not meant to be taken as an attempted proof.

You said: This is merely to state the obvious contention Derek—the very contention we are discussing.

Again, Matt, I am only trying to define my view as opposed to your view of my view, and show that my view does not depend on some special personal definition I invented. I am also showing that compatibilism does not “always collapse into causal determinism,” as you contend. My compatibilism is probably different from the type you are used to (and much different from the kind Jerry Walls argues against, as well). This does not make me an incompatibilist, does it?

By the way, I would agree that some Calvinists present a version of compatibilism which does collapse into causal determinism. I disagree with them on this point. But there are many different kinds of Calvinist, and many different approaches to compatibilism, Many do not downplay freedom to the extent that their view collapses into causal determinism.

You said: it doesn’t address how compatibilists define “freedom.”

It is true that the mere definition does not define how I, as a compatibilist, explain or define freedom. But I have already defined my view of human freedom as the classical compatibilist’s “voluntary, uncoerced” action of the will in combination with our actual experience of free choice, with its obvious and undeniable sense of liberty. We are capable of doing other than we do, and as free as our everyday selection of socks, meals, pets, computers, guitars, books, words to write on a blog, etc. No one compels or forces our selection of these things. We select what we want from a broad range of possible choices. They are “possible” because we possess the ability to choose them, and they are “choices” because they are an action of the will that we select in distinction to the other actions of the will of which we are capable at the same moment.

You said: Therefore I am going to need you to wrestle with the underlying nature of your compatibilism in a more robust way if our conversation can continue.

I have wrestled and re-wrestled through this apparent dilemma, and I cannot seem to get the determinism or the free will to win the match. I maintain steadfast Biblical convictions in both of them. I have become convinced that they are friends who never actually fight against one another, but just wrestle for fun. It’s mere “play fighting.”

I know these answers may not be what you were expecting; just wait until you see how I respond to your seven question groups! I suspect you will not consider my answers to be logically consistent. I think they are logically consistent; and more importantly I believe they are consistent with Scripture, both in what they affirm and in what they leave unsaid. And that is the ultimate aim of my position.



Thank you for you patience as I post these responses. I am going to move on to your 7 groups of questions.

You asked: 1) If God decreed your sin before you were born and rendered it certain that you would sin in all the particular ways you do sin, then his mind is the logical origin for your sin. Therefore how can God’s predetermining mind and decretive will be the logical origin for the sin of X to occur but not be the author of the sin of X? Can you please parse the essential difference between God decreeing the sin of X to occur and God authoring the sin of X to occur?

Only the one sinning can author the sin. If God cannot sin, He cannot author sin. God can foreordain that a particular event will occur without making Himself the source or locus of the motive that makes the event sinful. As mentioned previously, in the example of Joseph’s brothers, God meant “it” (the specific event) for good, while they meant the very same “it” (the same specific event) for evil. The exact same event was freely chosen by them with an evil motive and nonetheless ordained by God with a good motive. God is utterly incapable of intending to commit moral evil, though He ordains to permit its occurrence through the will of the creature acting in opposition to His commandment. Thus, He gives the commandment (a good thing) which in the hands of a rebellious creature becomes an occasion for sin.

On your view, why wouldn’t God simply refrain from ever commanding anything, and thereby render us sinless? Since sin could never happen apart from God’s contrary commands, would you say God’s commands make Him the “author” of sin? He did not have to command Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit. It would seem that He could have avoided a great deal of trouble by just letting them have the fruit, or by not putting that particular tree within their reach. If His intent was to prevent sin from happening, would He not have left it out of the realm of possibility? Since He brought it into the realm of possibility, is He the author of it? I have a reasonable, Biblical way of saying “no” to this question. Do you?

On your view, which I assume includes exhaustive divine foreknowledge, how is God’s decision to actualize a world in which sin will definitely occur not an “authorship” of sin? Did He not predetermine and in some sense render evil certain by foreseeing it and choosing to actualize a world in which it would infallibly occur? If God has perfect foreknowledge of future events, and took the initiating action that led to evil’s occurrence, is His mind not the logical origin of the evil?

In other words, the Calvinist is not alone in facing this apparent conundrum. However, I would rather view God as ordaining to permit evil purposefully than as foreknowing and initiating a process that infallibly leads to evil as a purposeless but wholly preventable side effect of creation.

You asked: 2) Can the underlying nature of compatibilistic freedom be defined as an agent choosing in accordance with determinative, causal factors outside oneself—i.e. God’s irresistible decrees? If not—what part disqualifies the definition as being truly descriptive of compatibilistic freedom?

Compatibilistic freedom allows for the possibility that we choose in accordance with God’s decrees.

You asked: 3) Are you free to choose contrary to what God determined you to “freely” choose, Derek?

Yes, I do possess that freedom, in simple terms. But the result of my freedom is that I will choose what God pre-determined. Since I don’t know what was decreed, I freely choose according to my own desires and without regard to decree. No one’s choice is influenced by a decree of which he is unaware (even if he is aware of the fact that there is a decree). We choose from the range of possibilities that we see before us. All of the possibilities are possible before we choose, and we are free to choose any of the possibilities. The fact that a decree of God mysteriously works in, under, and through our choice does not mitigate or invalidate the real freedom that is experienced by us.

You asked: 4) You stated: “No one chose my socks for me (in the sense that the person’s choosing would prevent my choosing).” No one is saying God’s determination prevents you from choosing Derek. The argument is that God’s determination prevents you from freely choosing a different pair of socks other than what God determined for you. I feel you are obscuring and dodging the real issue that is at the heart of our entire dialogue. So I ask you, “Are you free to choose a pair of socks that are different than those God determined for you to choose?”

Yes, I am free to choose any of the socks within the range of the possibilities presented, or no socks at all. Even mismatched pairs might be chosen, and I may even choose to wear them on my hands rather than my feet. All of these options are within the range of the possibilities presented, and I possess the freedom and ability to choose any of them. God foreknows and pre-determines the result, but from my perspective there are many possibilities and I make a perfectly free choice. From God’s standpoint, it is all pre-determined, but from mine it is open. Even knowing that there is a decree behind my choice cannot prevent me from choosing freely and voluntarily from the range of choices presented. In my actual experience, none of the possible choices were ever closed off to me. God decreed that I should be presented with a range of possible choices and experience the freedom of choosing, and yet He also decreed the outcome. He is quite a clever God! Perhaps He is much more clever than any philosopher or theologian will ever recognize. It is hard to imagine how clever and capable He is!

You asked: 5) You stated: “I could have chosen a different pair of socks (i.e., I possess the ability to choose a different pair of socks, or no socks at all for that matter).” Derek, do you really possess the freedom and ability to choose a different pair of socks– that is to say socks different than those God determined for you? If not is your experience of freedom merely imaginary?

It doesn’t appear to be imaginary, feel imaginary, or give any evidence of being imaginary. Everything about it is as real as anything else I experience in life. So, what prevents an omnipotent and all-wise God from decreeing that I should experience real freedom while choosing what He decreed for me? If He cannot do something this simple, what can He do? After all, Matt, this is God we are talking about. He is not limited in the ways we are. He can make it all happen however He wants.

You asked: 6) If we do not have the genuine freedom to resist, reject or choose contrary to what God pre-determined us to choose, then how can you say compatibilism affirms, real, genuine freedom–which would entail having a genuine choice before making a genuine choice?

Since the range of actual possibilities that are set before us (the range of options of which we are capable) includes choices that are not ultimately decreed, we must in some sense possess the ability to choose contrary to the decree. However, we cannot possibly “resist” or “reject” the decree because we don’t know the content of the decree. If we were to choose contrary to the decree, we would not even know we were doing so. To resist or reject something, we have to know what it is we are resisting or rejecting, right? Moreover, God decrees that the result of our free choice will be what He decreed. Resisting the decree would be like trying to stop the wind or swallow the ocean. Pure futility. Choosing something that isn’t decreed is in one sense impossible because whatever we choose is what was decreed. We can’t escape the free choice or the decree, and neither can mitigate the other. They are in perfect harmony. Why try to separate them or put them at odds?

You asked: 7) If we are not free to choose in a manner contrary to God’s prior determination, and if every one of our choices is reduced to only one choice—the one determined for us, and if every choice is rendered certain (if not necessary) via God’s irresistible decrees, then in what true sense can it be said (as you state) that our choices entail “having an undeniable experience of real freedom?”

We are free to choose in a manner contrary to the decree; we just won’t ever do so. This does not limit our freedom; it interprets the result of our free choice as a God-ordained event. The one choice that is ordained is identical to the one choice we freely choose, and vice versa. Again, we don’t have any way of knowing which choice is decreed, so we can’t be in any way constrained or prevented by the decree as we make our choice.

You said: It seems to me Derek the absence of causal constraints acting externally on our wills is really what makes freedom have any valid, definitive meaning. Do you disagree?

Not necessarily. But the decree is not a “constraint” that acts externally on our wills. It is certainly not an identifiable or tangible constraint. How did the decree “constrain” me when I chose my socks? I did not feel it, did not see it, did not know anything about it. I simply chose, and then thought, “Today God has blessed me with new white socks. Thank you, Lord. I am blessed.”

You said: This is the kind of libertarian freedom God possesses and we are made in his image. Do you think at minimum Adam and Eve had this kind of freedom before the Fall?

I would suppose they had compatibilistic freedom that could not exist apart from God’s providential ordination. They, being able to sin, had far less freedom than believers will have when we are glorified and made absolutely free to do nothing other than the revealed will of God. In the eternal state, He will not permit us to sin, and we will not view this as any kind of constraint. We will be “free indeed.” God did permit Adam and Eve to sin, which brought us all into bondage. But whether it is Adam and Eve in their initial form of freedom, fallen man under the cruel power of sin, glorified believers with no ability to sin, or everyday Christians struggling through life–the varying measures of freedom we experience are compatibilistic.

I hope something here is helpful. I am not proposing a theory of how it all works, but simply restating what I believe is taught clearly in the Bible. It’s quite mysterious to me, with much left undefined. On the other hand, I am not too surprised that such lofty matters are ultimately beyond my grasp. Still, I don’t see any good reason to say God’s decrees are in conflict with genuine human freedom.


(Continued more…)


Here is one more response addressing some of your final comments from May 17. At this point, I may be exhausting everything I have to say on these topics. However, feel free to challenge or ask for further clarification if you’d like.

You said: As I see it, on the one hand you want to say humans posses real, genuine freedom. But on the other hand you want to say we are not free to use our genuine freedom freely—that is to say we are not free to choose against the ONLY choice we really ever had to begin with—the one determined for us before we were born.

I do affirm “two hands,” but I don’t limit freedom the way you suggest here. At the moment of choosing, we usually have MANY choices in front of us. We choose one … and one was chosen for us. Both statements are true in their own way, and in a way that does not contradict. God has established our freedom in this way. But don’t take my word for it–listen to the man who asked God for wisdom (and received it).

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
Proverbs 20:24 A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?

You said: We are causally constrained by factors outside ourselves. Derek, your compatibilism only offers imaginary ability and freedom to choose otherwise—like different socks. You really don’t have this alleged ability in virtue of the fact there is only one choice available to you–the one God decreed. Do you concede this?

No, I don’t. We are not at all “constrained” by the decree. The ability and freedom we possess are not imaginary; rather, they are God-given. And God-ordained.

Whether our choices are foreordained by God or chosen freely by us–or both–we only get one choice in any given situation, anyway. We act (or even refrain from acting), and at once the choice is settled. Our path instantly narrows into the one choice that had to be made. Why can’t my freely chosen choice and God’s foreordained choice coincide? Since the decree is only revealed when we look backward, it cannot constrain us as we look forward. Let’s say I choose the white socks again tomorrow morning. Then, just to prove to myself that I am free to make my own choices, I quickly switch to the blue socks. I walk out of the room with the smug confidence that I am the master of my own destiny (at least where socks are concerned). But as soon as I think back on the experience, I am instantly humbled by the realization that God ordained both the initial choice and the switch! The very ordination that could not inhibit my freedom when I was looking forward (at sock choices) acted to bind my freedom when I looked back (at the very same sock choices). In looking back, I see what was decreed but have no power to change it. In looking forward, I see only open possibilities. So I am perpetually caught in this bizarre present moment where the decree and my freedom are entwined in a mysterious interplay. I am prevented from focusing too heavily on either the decree or my freedom, but must view both simultaneously in this humbling yet exhilarating and inescapable locus of free/determined CHOICE. They are both there, all at once … and they agree.

You said: The only difference between Hume and you is that you hold that one’s desires are themselves determined by God’s decree and not impersonal forces of nature.

I would not say that this is the ***only*** difference. When God occupies the center of focus, the possibilities change dramatically. Hume would never have dreamed of what I am proposing.

You said: Either way “free” choices are being controlled and determined by antecedent conditions and causes outside one’s control!

Yes, but God (being God) can “control and determine” in ways that do not constrain us and do not hinder the genuine freedom He intends for us to have.

You said: … glad to hear you also like William Lane Craig—he will go down as being one of the greatest debaters of our age.

Totally agree! He is great (for a non-Calvinist) :)

You said: You mentioned the force of his argument fails because many compatibilists don’t suffer from a cognitive “vertigo.” Unfortunately I think you concentrated on this little word too much and dismissed the larger point he was making—how determinism (including compatibilistic determinism) cannot be rationally affirmed. My feeling is that compatibilistic determinists don’t succumb to “vertigo” of the mind because they aren’t actually consistent in their thinking! That is to say they don’t actually apply to their daily lives what they believe to be true in theory. If they really acted upon the belief that everything about their thinking, desiring and doing was ultimately outside their control—and they were merely vessels housing minds that can only act as God’s intermediate means to bring about some predetermined end—then I’m quite confident they would wrestle with the idea that the entire world is a vain spectacle existing in a cosmic charade in which we merely have the illusion of free-will.

I hope you can see now that I am both rationally affirming compatibilism and coherently applying it in daily life. This can be done if one strives for balance and pleads for grace to “walk the line.”

You said: I stated you appeal to paradox when your view faces logical contradictions it cannot answer because your “pen-name” seems to embrace paradox as both a valid tactic and theological reality in relation to your views.

I certainly affirm Biblical paradox, primarily as a feature of language which points to the limits of human logic and exalts the supreme epistemological authority of divine revelation. This approach solves a lot of problems and provides a satisfying exegetical, philosophical, apologetic and devotional feast table! For the Calvinist, it turns many theological debates into false dichotomies that can be solved by an appeal to balance. It also leaves one with many conundrums with which to wrestle.

You said: You do admit that you look to paradox when we are presented with seeming contradictions that our human logic cannot unravel.

Technically, I call it “mystery” when divine revelation does not reveal it; and I call it “paradox” when divine revelation gives us warrant to make apparently contradictory statements that require further explanation to be coherently understood. The main problem I see with our human logic “unraveling” a Biblical paradox is not that it is impossible to do, but that we are prone to put too much stock in our own explanations. We think that if we can explain something it is now “solved,” when really we have only come up with one of many possible solutions. Meanwhile, God alone knows which is the right one.

You said: But again–I must repeat if everything we think and do is causally constrained to the one choice determined for us– there is no paradox! There is no mystery! Everything is determined and freedom is illusory! Therefore the paradox or mystery is not in regards to determinism being compatible with freedom (because freedom is simply re-defined to suit determinism) but rather WHY God holds us morally accountable for the evils he causally determines us to commit via his irresistible decrees!

You are describing a different approach than the one I take. As I mentioned before, some Calvinists do take this approach. They call it compatibilism, and it is a form of that. But it is not the only form; it is a form of compatibilism that overemphasizes the determinism aspect. Fortunately, one can achieve a more balanced position, even from this starting point.

You said: But regardless of whether one appeals to paradox, mystery or incomprehensible enigma, the overarching point is your way of thinking to circumvent the appearance of contradiction or absurdity seems very privileged and dependent on Western, philosophical resources of ingenuity not accessible to the common man one might find on the mission field–this alone warrants it’s dismissal for me.

You make an interesting and somewhat pragmatic point here. Believers come with varying levels of philosophical sophistication and logical ability. One fascinating aspect of Biblical paradox is that it can be accessible to people at all levels; from children to the elderly; from low intellects to geniuses; from the spiritually mature to newbies. And paradox is a universal language that is found and valued in both Eastern and Western contexts, is it not? To be honest, I find it is also commonly mishandled.

You said: Calvinism as a whole is a view that invites hyper-Calvinism (in all its vagaries) and one must be schooled in how not to think too “logically” about its most basic assertions (i.e. God wants you to be holy, but he decreed all your unholy sin, such that you can’t resist committing them. But don’t think God tempts you to commit such sins– he doesn’t tempt anyone to sin. He just renders it certain you will sin through an irresistible degree), etc.

I simply disagree with this. The Bible is a perfectly balanced book that can enable all of us, whether Arminian or Calvinist (or whatever), to steer clear of the apparently “logical” but extreme forms of our philosophical and theological positions. If we are consistent with Scripture and allow it to work on us (and in us), we don’t have to slide into hyper-Calvinism or hyper-Arminianism. For a balanced Calvinist, the view forward (the view that is full of open possibilities) must always be regulated by the revealed will of God. Regardless of the mysterious decree, we will be liable to discipline and judgment if we use our freedom to violate the principles of Scripture. The good which He accomplishes in us is graciously rewarded; the evil which He permits in us will be dealt with in the process of sanctification and mortification; and we must continually confess our sins and repent, as the Word commands. Otherwise, we languish. I want to choose to be a vibrant and God-honoring believer–and then thank God that He chose that for me.

In closing, I want to thank you for posing some very challenging questions and making strong arguments. I feel much sharpened, and hope you do too! Thank you, brother.

In Christ,

About StriderMTB

Hi, I'm Matt. "Strider" from Lord of the Rings is my favorite literary character of all time and for various reasons I write under the pseudonym "StriderMTB. As my blog suggests I seek to live out both the excitement and tension of a Christian walk with Christ in the 3rd world context of Asia. I started my blog as an unmarried man who was blessed to oversee an orphanage of amazing children in South-East Asia. As of 2022, I am a happily married man to an amazing missionary wife serving together on the mission field. I hate lima beans and love to pour milk over my ice-cream. I try to stay active in both reading and writing and this blog is a smattering of my many thoughts. I see the Kingdom of God as Jesus preached it and lived to be the only hope for a broken world and an apathetic church.
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