Contemplating Classical Compatabilism and Where Desires Come From
I found it ironic that the week I sign up to post my blog is the week that we deal with anthropology, a topic that means we must engage with the timeless dilemma of human free will. As far as I know I am one of the few ThM students who, with unashamed humility, will admit to being a Calvinist (although I’m sure that Brian LePort is a closet Calvinist and Andreas Lunden is one who simply refuses to admit it). Alas, God’s sovereignty would have it no other way than for me to post during this week, although it may be to highlight continued areas of my theology that need some fine tuning, something this ThM program has a PhD in. That being said, let me start by saying that I in no way intend to come across as the “arrogant Calvinist” I hear so many speak fondly of. I am fully aware that engaging this particular topic is like pulling the pin on a theological grenade, rolling it into a room, and closing the door (as seen in the recent resurgence of activity on Marc’s question about “Why Non-Calvinists Hate Calvinism So Much,” a post that simply will not die. Arminians seem to keep coming up with more reasons.)
At this point the only article I have had much time to engage with is Marc Cortez’s article on free will. I think he does an excellent job accurately engaging with both sides of the dilemma and pointing to strengths and weaknesses (I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss either). However, I initially disagreed with his statement that “classic compatibilism is viewed by most as inadequate because of its failure to provide an adequate explanation of where desires and beliefs come from…” One possible explanation that is gaining more support from guys such as Bruce Ware and Alvin Plantigna, is with the concept of middle-knowledge. This is the idea that God not only knows what could be and what will be, but that he also knows what would be if certain circumstances were put in place.
The critique of many classical compatibilist towards middle-knowledge in libertarian free will is that it is incoherent because choices are made arbitrarily. If all things are equal, and choice A is just a likely as choice B, then God could still not be sure that any set of circumstances would bring about the desired result. There is no necessary connection between choices and circumstances so God could not know an individuals choice by simply knowing the circumstances. Thus, God’s foreknowledge is compromised. However, inside of classical compatibilism middle-knowledge is a viable option. The classical compatibilist holds that choices are not made arbitrarily, but that men always choose what they desire most. Therefore, using middle-knowledge God would know accurately what set of circumstances would produce what result. There is a connection between choices and circumstances. If this is indeed accurate, then classical compatibilism has an adequate explanation of where desires and beliefs come from. It would appear that desires and beliefs stem in some way by antecedent factors that God himself orchestrates.
However, upon further inspection, it seems that Marc foils this stance with his “Consequence Argument.” This argument states that if men are not in control of the particular circumstances that stimulate the strongest desire, then men cannot be held responsible for the choice that is made when a certain set of circumstances is presented. At this point, it seems that I am left to fall on the defense that this removal of other possible choices due to specific antecedent conditions does not deny moral responsibility to the agent, because the agent still acts freely based upon their greatest desire. This seems to be the case with Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, and the King of Assyria in Isaiah 10. Circumstances are orchestrated so that Joseph’s brothers and the Assyrian King carry out their greatest desires, which also happen to be the plan of God, yet God holds them culpable for the sin. They exercise their freedom of inclination, and God exercises his sovereignty. I’m not sure if this is just one of those hard truths we must accept, while scratching our heads, or if more light will be shed on this in the future. According to the Consequence Argument I still have yet to solve the problem. Maybe I should take Marc’s stance as a true Barthian theologian and give way to a true dialectical theological method: simply shrug my shoulders and say, ‘I don’t know”………yet.
Posted on October 25, 2010, in Anthropology, Philosophical Theology, Th.M. Program, Theology and tagged compatibilism, free will, libertarian free will, middle knowledge, theological anthropology. Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.