You WILL Download This Paper

and it’s FREE!

See, right there, that lame joke just about sums up what I know about Free Will. Which means I need to read Paul Manata’s new primer Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology: A Contemporary Introduction. Paul is a long time friend of this blog and myself, and has done the Reformed community a service in compiling this introduction to this question which must inevitably dog every generation of Predestinarians.

To get you interested with a taster (and maybe even start a discussion), let me share with you the “Reformed perimeter fence” that Paul distills (p. 30) from the confessions:

  • Whatsoever happens in creation happens because God has decreed it.
  • If God decrees that something occur, then it will certainly occur; it must occur given the decree.
  • God could have decreed otherwise than he did, in which case we would have done otherwise (or maybe not even existed).
  • God knows all that will happen in creation because God has decreed it to occur. His knowledge here is based on his decree, and not vice versa.
  • Though God decrees whatsoever comes to pass, man is responsible for his actions.
  • The ultimate source of our actions is God’s decree grounded in his will. God is ultimately responsible for all that occurs (note a distinction: being ultimately responsible for something does not necessarily imply that you are morally culpable for thing).
  • Given God’s decree, we cannot do otherwise than he has decreed. Given identical decrees, identical decreed results will always happen.
  • This is a kind of determinism, a kind of necessity to our actions, but it is a conditional necessity and not an absolute one.
  • God executes his decree in history by his providential governing of all things to their appointed ends. How he does this is not known but may be speculated on.
  • Affirming determinism does not entail affirming a specific model of how God makes sure whatsoever he has decreed comes to pass. Reformed believers are free to develop and work out models so long as they are consistent with the above.

So go get yourself a copy of the PDF, and learn something already!

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10 Responses to You WILL Download This Paper

  1. RubeRad says:

    This is a kind of determinism

    It’s good to know we don’t have to be ashamed of this accusation. As I see it, a Calvinist is an optimistic determinist. A fatalist is a pessimistic determinist.

  2. Paul M. says:

    Thanks for the linkage! And it’s nice to be considered a “friend” of this blog! 🙂

  3. "Michael Mann" says:

    …but, Rube, of course it makes a big difference that there is a Determiner with personality and a will. Thus Paul appropriately speaks of a “kind of” determinism, and sandwiches that point with points about God being the one who decrees. Without that context, “determinism” conjures up a fatalistic idea, thus my hesitancy in using that term.

  4. Paul M. says:

    Michael, ‘determinism’ only conjures up that notion if one is unfamiliar with the conceptual issue (btw, a determining person could make things fatalistic); thus, I opt to inform rather than avoid the term. For Reformed theology *is* deterministic. I argue that hesitancy to use the term has lead to all kinds of problem and misunderstandings about Reformed theology. Also, since it *is* deterministic, if you tell someone S it is not, period, then someone else S2 who knows what Reformed theology entails comes along and points out that the position is in fact deterministic and you have to concede, then S may wonder why you hid the truth from him.

  5. "Michael Mann" says:

    PM, I thought I was complimenting you. Well, OK, Paul, surely you know what “determinism” means to most people. It means a mechanistic metaphysics with inevitable laws of nature or some other impersonal force behind it. Thus it has to be carefully guarded in a Christian context. With proper guarding it may be used, but always with mental footnotes attached because the Calvinist definition is not the mainstream definition. I’m not really enthused about mainstreaming a word that tends to be misleading on its face.

    Like I said, I do think you have properly guarded it.

  6. Paul M. says:

    Michael, I thought you did too; I wasn’t offended. But, I did have a response, so I gave it. I understand that many people think of the description you gave determinism. But lately, with the findings of quantum indeterminism, that description isn’t as much in vogue. I didn’t say I was happy with the status quo, I said I’d rather inform than avoid the term. The point is, I don’t want people saying that “Reformed theology is not deterministic.” Indeed, those who are tempted to talk this way should qualify. If they don’t, then when it is shown that it is deterministic, people wonder why the were mislead. So perhaps we’re coming at it from two different angles. One aim of my paper though was to help Reformed people talk about this subject in contemporary terms.

  7. "Michael Mann" says:

    Perhaps we just have different contexts – you pummeling academics and me pummeling (!) pew sitters. In my world, quantum indeterminism hasn’t yet gotten to Deacon John and his wife.

  8. RubeRad says:

    I also see some nuancing even in the Perimeter Fence where the term is used, “of a kind”, “conditional, not absolute”. I think these are sufficient to give a reader a heads up, “hmm, this might be a different usage of determinism than I was thinking of”

  9. Zrim says:

    Paul, I haven’t read this but I do have a question. To your mind, when Calvinism is criticized for being “deterministic” what is the right word the critic should be using? My guess is that when most take issue with Calvinism they mean to say that Calvinism suggests something it really doesn’t, something along the lines of the unmoved Mover or some other such thing that renders us creatures autobots.

  10. Paul M. says:

    Zrim, I think that word is the right word. Of course, my paper points out that there are several models of determinism, and the critic needs to make sure that they don’t lump all models together. The quick phrase I gave it was “theological determinism.” This kind of determinism does not entail what is usually referred to as *causal* determinism; or, in the fancy pants jargon, “nomological determinism.” Now, when someone points out that determinism implies this or that unsavory outcome, we need to ask whether the problem he’s picked out applies to *any and all* forms of determinism, or just to one model, say, nomological determinism, or logical determinism, or. So, you’re right in that they may be thinking of determinism as, say, “Stoic determinism,” and this needs to be pointed out. Most often, lay critics probably mean “causal determinism,” when they mention the problems with Calvinism or Reformed Theology (RT). This kind is the kind attacked in the philosophical literature. However, I point out that (a) RT doesn’t entail, and probably even is inconsistent with, this kind of determinism, (b) and that even *if* RT entails some form of causal determinism (R. S. Clark and others use the word “cause”), it is of the kind God-causation. Now, God-causation is *sui generis*. It’s utterly unique. Thus, while what we can call mundane determinism entails transitivity such that if A causes B and B causes C, then A causes C; it may be that God-causation doesn’t have this mundane feature.

    In any case, I don’t spend much time on the above. The paper is not a polemic *for* Reformed theology. I do not try to disprove our critics’ arguments. The paper is meant to be in-house, addressed to the Reformed community, and primarily laymen churchmen and even ordinary pastors. I, and others, have noticed several confusions about RT on this matter, and the confusions are *ours*! Though John Frame isn’t a favorite here, he has sat in on many ordinations. He notes that he cannot count the times he has asked questions about the teachings of RT on this matter and has received Molinist and even Arminian answers. Also, some prominent non-Calvinist scholars have got into online scuffles with prominent Calvinist bloggers, esp. neo-Cals, and have been shocked that these men deny the entailments of RT. They ask, “Why don’t these guys know their own history.”

    So I decided the paper would be good. Basically, I gently introduce the reader to the contemporary philosophical scene so that they may better understand some of the basic terms and problems discussion about “free will” and “moral responsibility” brings up. After this I discuss RT and lay out a perimeter fence that we must stay inside, but I note that there is room on the inside to roam around and have intramural debates. Thus, there’s freedom for some amount of disagreement. This is mainly because neither the Bible nor the Confession give us a worked-out and developed “action theory.” So, there’s room for debate amongst the particular models we can choose from to understand how we could be free or morally responsible (or both) in light of God’s decrees, providence, and omniscience. I also discuss the main motivations for libertarian free will so that Reformed laymen may be better prepared to understand and have discussions with their non-Reformed libertarian friends. I also highlight some reasons Reformed Christians may bring to bear against libertarian freedom.

    And that’s basically it in a nutshell. I think you might enjoy it. I aim to stand within the Confession, and I seek to provide freedom within the Reformed tradition by not linking any preferred model of “compatibilism” to the Reformed tradition as “the” model one must hold to in order to be truly Reformed (there’s a hint of QIRC here). I write in the tradition of philosophy in service of theology, and so do not elevate philosophy to Queen.

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