Let me prove to you that 1 + 1 = 0. Given that a=1 and b=1,
a = b
a2 = b2
a2 – b2 = 0
(a + b)(a – b) = 0
(a + b)(a – b) = 0
(a – b) (a – b)
(a + b) = 0
1 + 1 = 0
Now, really, I haven’t proven anything. I cheated, because I divided by (a-b), which equals zero, and anyone can tell you that you can’t divide by zero. (Don’t believe me? Put it into your cacluator.) And I’m not the first one to talk about this proof, either. It’s been around forever. Nevertheless, high school algebra students get stumped by it year after year after year, because it’s sneaky. What’s my point? All of my steps above appeared to follow the rules, but they didn’t. It’s the same way with the theology textbook I just read.
Must be some weird doctrine they were trying to prove, right? Nope, the author was trying to prove “soft determinism”, sometimes known as Calvinism (though they’re not necessarily equal) or “compatibilism.”
The argument goes like this: we do all our actions exactly the way God decreed us to do them, for God had created all the circumstances to guarantee that we would “freely choose” to do what we chose to do. There was no possibility that we could have done otherwise, yet we still have “compatibilistic free will” because we wished to do what we did.
This runs into huge theological problems in my mind (eg, in the case of moral accountability), but even more simply fails on a purely logical basis.
- The argument starts that in a given circumstance, we can choose “freely” to do either A or B. (hence calling it compatibilistic free will)
- It then states that when we choose A, it is because God has ordered all our circumstances such that we are sufficiently and definitively inclined to make that choice, and thus our “will” cannot in any way override that (ie, the circumstances and our character and desires point so strongly to A that it was impossible to choose B)
- Nevertheless, because our “will” wanted to choose A, we had free will.
Sounds like someone’s been smoking something, right? It should. Here’s why:
- Assertion #1 states that in a given circumstance, we can choose between two items—let’s say we come to an intersection and can choose to go left, or choose to go right. At this point, we have free will, right?
- Assertion #2 says that if I go left, it’s because it was impossible for me to choose right, because God ordained circumstances such that I could not conceivably ever go right in that circumstance—with our intersection example, this might be the equivalent of an impassable wall in front of the road on the right.[*Some will say…*]
- Thus, the situation described in Assertion #2 is NOT EQUAL to the situation in Assertion #1, and therefore you cannot ascribe the freedom present in Assertion #1 to Assertion #2! If we’d told the whole story about the wall when describing the situation initially, we would have denied that there was a real choice to be made there.
A compatibilist might come back and say “Ah, but what if there wasn’t a wall? What if there was a pot of Gold and some great-smelling food, and whatever item that the person in question found irresistable just in sight up the left road? Then the choice would remain, but the person would inevitably always choose to go left, and he would retain his free will.”
This seems strong, but is actually self-contradictory. (That is, it assumes that the will can be completely shaped by causes in order to prove that causes can determine all decisions without destroying free will!) To rebut this, I must merely claim that a will irresistably shaped by causes (the money, food, etc) is not free at all, but merely a complex reactionary impulse, like the instinct of animals.
A truly free will would be one that, regardless of what external or internal influences acted on it, was still capable of choosing either option. It might be inclined one way or another, but never to the degree in which it was sufficiently and definitively inclined one way or another.
Do you remember the math example above? If a and b were NOT the same number , all of the steps I took would be perfectly legitimate, and the final conclusion would be true. When you change the circumstances of an example, however, you cannot assume that all of the rest of it remains true! The mere presence of two roads in the second example doesn’t make them “choosable options”, and there is no freedom of choice there! How could there be?!
Therefore, there is NO freedom in “compatibilism”, and thus it is exactly equal to Hard Determinism, which is equal to Fatalism. The only way to deny this is to “cheat” by redefining terms and then using them in contexts where they are not logically consistent. It’s time to toss out “compatibilism” as an option, for it is no logical option at all!