I have a collection of questions outside of TULIP about the various doctrines in and associated with Calvinism. The primary collection revolve around free-will and determinism. Some people who call themselves Calvinists believe we have free-will and the ability to make real choices, but others, including John Calvin himself, seem to think that God meticulously determines ALL THINGS, and as such, free-will is an illusion.
So naturally, I have all the questions.
1. Calvinism rejects free will.
Calvinism claims that EVERYTHING that ever happens is ALWAYS determined by God. Not merely ALLOWED, or overseen or guided. DETERMINED.
How do you ignore your own constant, daily experience of making free will choices in order to hold onto a doctrine that teaches that you cannot make those choices you make? Is this not like trying to convince yourself that the color blue does not exist while having an unobstructed view of the sky?
The fuzziness comes when Calvinists start discussing what is meant by FREE, or WILL or CHOICE, etc. I’m sure in their little hearts they intend to clear things up by being very specific and particular, but as I try reading the MANY articles over at monergism.com, I start glazing over at the endless paragraphs which don’t actually SAY ANYTHING.
So let me describe the point of contention:
Inanimate objects, like 9mm bullets, have no free will. They do not make choices. They are not responsible in ANY sense for what they do. If a man is shot to death with 9mm bullets, no reasonable person would blame the bullets, or the gun. They would blame the man who fired the gun.
IF divine Determinism is the belief that humans are no more free than those bullets, and God is the only being with a free-will, then He is the only person who can ultimately be the cause of anything and everything that ever happens. We are all bullets, and only God has a hand on the gun. Or if you prefer, we are all dominos falling into each other, but only HE sets us in a line and pushes us over.
2. If determinism is true, how are we not robots?
I’ve heard a lot of Calvinists mock this metaphor, but I’ve yet to hear one answer it. In a recent email exchange, a Calvinist told me that we are DIFFERENT from robots because we can think and have emotions. But if God determines all things, then he is also determining our thoughts and our emotions, so this is a pointless distinction. All of that becomes a part of our programming.
So, let me clarify: if our choices are determined by our nature, and our nature is determined by God, and the system teaches that we are not making free will choices but merely obeying our desires/nature and we can do no other, then how are we different from robots?
And how does this system not NECESSARILY give the blame to God for evil?
If I build a robot and I program it to hate my neighbor and I also program it with the ability and desire to kill what it hates, such that this is the ONLY programming it has to access, it will kill my neighbor. I could certainly say “I didn’t kill my neighbor. My evil robot did.”
But anyone with any sense would say, “You programmed the robot!”
And I could say, “Yes, I determined its nature and will, but it made its own choices according to its programming. So, since it made those choices, it is guilty of its actions and I am not.”
In this fantastic Sci-Fi scenario, should the police let me go as an innocent man, or charge me with murder?
Similarly, I hear Calvinists say, “God isn’t guilty of our evil, because we choose to do it according to our sinful nature.” But when I ask, “Why do we have a sinful nature?”, Calvinists say, “God determines your nature.” But then when I say, “If God DETERMINES my nature, and my nature CAUSES me to do evil, and I CANNOT CHOOSE TO DO OTHERWISE, then how is God not directly responsible for the evil I do?” and Calvinists say, “When you do evil, you get the credit, but when you do good, God gets the credit.” (Todd Friel of Wretched Radio)
And I hope I don’t have to explain why this doesn’t answer the question.
Again, if we are programmed by God, and we cannot act against that programming, and we do evil because we are programmed to do evil, how does this make us something other than robots, and how does it not necessarily give God the blame for all evil?
Here’s what the Bible seems to say about it:
“…then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”Joshua 24:15
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”2 Corinthians 9:7
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve1 Peter 5:2
And of course there are endless verses where God gives people options and choices and tells them to do certain things and not others. In short, nothing about our experience or the Bible makes any sense when you try to view us as having no ability to make choices. If any of our Calvinist friends can make sense of it for me, you are welcome to share in the comments.
If you choose to.
Someone once told me that we have a myriad of choices set before us each day and God knows what one we will ultimately make, but we do not and that is what free will is. We are not influenced one way or the other even though God knows what it will be. Otherwise why do we struggle so hard on some choices if it is not ours to make?