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February 20, 2009


Well said!

Jonathan Edwards goes into detail about this in Part 4, Section V of his book on "The Freedom of the Will," but what he writes in that section would be more easily understood if one read everything leading up to it.


Could you precis, as I have not yet read that work?

I ask because Greg's answer seems to set up the temporal dynamics of the unfolding of God's sovereign will as being both predetermined and dependent on the agency of human choice. I hear Greg making two diverging statements without effectively connecting the two together. Perhaps Edwards' thoughts could provide the link that Greg's pithy statements do not develop.

Greg agrees with Edwards that not only is the final event (e.g. somebody being persuaded) ordained, but the means are also ordained. In the analogy of Abraham and Sara, not only would it have been ordained that Sara get pregnant, but it would also have been ordained that Abraham have sex with Sara. Abraham having sex with Sara is just as certain as Sara getting pregnant since God guarantees them both.

Edwards argues for the compatibalist view of freedom, which is the view that all of our actions are determined by our strongest motivation, desire, inclination, bias, or mental predisposition. God can guarantee human action because he has causal influence over the persons heart.

In the case of defending the gospel, I suppose one might argue that if God has already guaranteed the end result, then the means are superfluous. But the means are only superfluous if they have no hand in bringing about the end result. But just as it is plain to see that there is a causal connection between Abraham having sex with Sara and Sara getting pregnant, so also is there a causal connection between one person arguing for a point of view and the other person being persuaded by the arguments. The arguing itself is just as much determined by God as the other person's response to the arguments.

Unless there is a causal connection between means and ends, it would be superfluous for God to ever ordain means. But if God ordains means to accomplish ends, then those ends would fail to take place if the means also failed to take place. The reason God can guarantee ends, even though they are accomplished by means which could theoretically be removed, is because God guarantees the means as well as the ends.

If it happens that we live in a completely deterministic world, and if all ends were determined by the initial conditions of the universe when the universe began, that would still not render means superfluous. The reason is that the means themselves would be part of the causal chain. Remove one link in the causal chain, and you alter everything that comes after. So determinism does not render means superfluous either.

In libertarian free will, acts of the will are not determined by any antecedent causes and/or conditions--not even our motives, desires, or inclinations. Motives can influence acts, but they can't determine acts.

The stronger a desire is, the more difficult it is to resist. It is theoretically possible, then, for a desire to be so strong that it renders the person incapable of resisting. In that case, the person does not have libertarian free will. It follows that the weaker a desire is, the more freedom a person has in the libertarian sense. And a person can only have complete freedom if they are under no influence of desire whatsoever.

So contrary to arguing being pointless under the Calvinist view of God's sovereignty, arguing is actually more effectual under the Calvinist view than the Arminian view. Under the Arminian view (libertarianism), there can only be a loose connection between means and ends, whereas under the Calvinist view (compatibalism), there is a necessary connection between means and ends.

Arguments can only work if they are effective in changing the opinion or heart of another person. But the more influence the argument has in persuading the other person, the less libertarian free will the other person has. It follows that if a person has perfect libertarian free will (i.e. if their choice is not so much as influenced by anything external) then arguments can have no persuasive power whatsoever.

But besides all this, we have a moral obligation to defend the gospel (1 Peter 3:15), and Solomon said that whatever you find to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). So we ought to make the best arguments we can, and excel at making our arguments with gentleness and respect, as Peter says.

Ah - I've heard R.C. Sproul elaborate this argument before. I have deep concerns with several of these points.

First, by linking volition inextricably to the prevailing internal motivation, this renders us slaves of our own constitutions. Do we determine our own desires, or are we subject to them? If the latter, then we are slaves; but this runs totally counter to the experience I have of making real choices based not solely on what desire holds strongest compulsion over my reason, but based on whatever rationale I choose to employ. So I dispute Edwards' definition of human choice.

Second, your description of libertarian freedom also falls outside the common experience of making choices. "Motives can influence acts, but they can't determine acts." The human component that initiates specific actions, selects among options, and generally renders choices is the WILL - not the desire, the persuasion, or the motivation. That is the very meaning of choice - there is an intelligent, conscious awareness that God has endowed with the ability to effect outcomes. The ability to choose resides not to our desires, but in our wills. These are clearly not the same thing, and they do not operate in indelible sympathy.

Sage, the original topic is whether Calvinism is consistent with using tactics, not whether Calvinism is true. The Calvinist position, at least insofar as it relates to whether people accept or reject the gospel, is compatibalistic. In the section from Edward's book that I was writing about, he doesn't argue for compatibalism or against libertarianism in that section. He only shows that compatibalism is consistent with endeavoring (and I'm applying endeavoring to our use of tactics to persuade people). Edwards' arguments for compatibalism and against libertarianism come much ealier in the book, but we'd be changing the topic to go into that. One doesn't have to be a compatibalist to tell that compatibalism is consistent with using tactics to persuade people. That's all I meant to go in to.

very well articulated Sam

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