Monday, September 21, 2009

Sproul chapter three: Free Will

Sunday School Lesson Three had to do with the topic of free will, which I have covered many times on this blog.

Sproul presents the classic, libertine, Calvinistic model of free will:
We not only can do whatever we want most at a give instant, we must do whatever we want most.
(As and aside, I always have the irresistible urge to point out that two common criticisms of Calvinism are polar opposites: 1) We are just puppets and 2) We might as well do whatever we want—advice that a puppet could never follow. The second criticism is somewhat closer to the truth.)

Sproul describes this view of free will as the paradoxical sounding free but determined. But it is an antinomy, not a paradox. The will is free, because our choices are controlled internally, by our desires, not by a puppet-master god, and yet it is determined because our desires completely and irresistibly cause our choices.

This should be contrasted to garden-variety determinism, wherein our choices are determined by external forces, be they the laws of physics or a micromanager god.

When coupled with next week’s topic: Original Sin (Total Depravity), which states that fallen man has no desire for God—we see the framework of a theology. If free will operates as Sproul describes (and I believe it does, at least to first order) and if we have no desire for God in our fallen state, then we are in deep, deep kimchee. If nothing intervenes to change the desires of fallen men, then nobody would choose God with their vaunted free will, and nobody would be saved. Jesus would have died in vain.

This lack of desire for God, which precludes our wills from choosing God, is nevertheless not an abdication of free will. It is what Jonathan Edwards called a moral inability.

I always give the same example—not perfect but I think it works. A mother of sound mind sits at the kitchen table holding her baby. Though possessed with a free will, she is morally incapable of making the choice to place her baby in the microwave and turning it on. Her free will is not violated—yet she does not have the liberty to make that choice—because her morality will not permit her. Likewise, in this model, though we have a libertine free will, we lack, in our fallen state, the liberty to choose God.

In the reverse of the usual grammatical correction: It is not that we may not, but rather we can not.

Maybe you like this model of free will. Maybe you don’t. But hear this: there is no secular or humanist model of free will. At least none that I have ever heard. Now some secularists are brutally honest. Cornell biologist William Provine immediately comes to mind, with his famous consequences of pure naturalism:
Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.
Provine is correct—no free will is possible without God—as far as I can see. We have either strict determinism—we are merely playing out the great differential equation of the universe, or we throw in a dash of quantum indeterminacy to spice up the dish. The latter can never rescue the free will—for all it accomplishes (implausibly, but never mind) is to introduce a bit of randomness. Externally determined choices are not free—and neither are random choices.

To hear a pure naturalist discuss free will is like being in a Swedish movie. Free will is an illusion, they will tell you. And they will go on to tell you that an illusory free will implies that people are not free moral agents. Quite right. So why punish criminals? Not because they are morally responsible—after all their choices were determined for them—but simply to protect society. But of course it is not really to protect society—because that is a moral choice, a free choice, and such things, in their schema, do not exist. No, the equation of the universe has inexorably placed you in a position of entertaining thoughts—over which you have no control--of defending incarceration on the basis of protecting society. Those thoughts are nothing more than particles and atoms and molecules doing their thing. And so on, and so forth, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:10 AM