Friday, September 08, 2006


A Moon Pie and R. C.

Many people have had the pleasure of drinking an R. C. Cola and eating a moon pie. One seems to go well with the other. Folks always find the drink filling, but they are usually disappointed in the snack food (until they acquire a taste for it). At first glance, the moon pie looks substantial, but when biting into it for the first time, people are usually disappointed by the marshmallow stuff. It tastes sweet but is not very filling. The marshmallow ingredients have been whipped to produce a spongy product with a lot of air.

I have enjoyed listening to Dr. R. C. Sproul’s radio programs, and I have also enjoyed reading his written work. I usually learn something from him; his work is normally filling. His argument against free will, however, seems to be lacking something, sort of like a moon pie.

Current, Popular Definitions

1. Free Will: the power of contrary choice; the ability at certain times to make an intentional, morally-significant choice from an unbiased (neutral) position.

2. Free Agency: the ability to do what a person wants to do. The person, however, only wants to do what he is already biased to do; thus, he does not have the ability to make an intentional, morally-significant choice from an unbiased (neutral) position.

It is clear that Dr. Sproul (a five-point Calvinist) believes that only #2 is possible. He does not use the term “free agency” in his famous book Chosen By God. It is obvious, however, that when he uses the term “free will,” he normally means #2, and he thinks that #1 (the common definition) is impossible:

“Probably the most common definition says free will is the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. For the will to be free it must act from a posture of neutrality, with absolutely no bias. . . . If the will is totally neutral, why would it choose the right or the left? It is something like the problem encountered by Alice in Wonderland when she came to a fork in the road. She did not know which way to turn. . . . For her to take a step in any direction, she would need some motivation to do so. Without any motivation, any prior inclination, her only real option would be to stand there and perish.”

Sproul, Chosen By God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 51-53.

When discussing free will, the state of Satan and Adam before their first sins usually becomes an issue. Satan was in a perfect environment, and he was unblemished by sinful inclinations for a period of time before his first sin. There was nothing outside Satan to tempt him to sin. Both Satan and Adam were not created as depraved beings. What would cause them to commit their first sins? Are they proof that #1 is possible? Dr. Sproul does not think so. He seems to believe that they were both free agents (#2), inclined to do good before their fall—desiring God (but somehow capable of doing what they were not originally inclined to do):

“Where did the devil come from? How did he manage to fall from goodness? Whether we are speaking of the Fall of man or the fall of Satan we still are dealing with the problem of good creatures becoming evil. Again we hear the ‘easy’ explanation that evil came through the creature’s free will. Free will is a good thing. That God gave us free will does not cast blame on him. In creation man was given an ability to sin and an ability not to sin. He chose to sin. . . . Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know. In spite of this excruciating problem we still must affirm that God is not the author of sin.” (Ibid., 30-31)

Dr. Sproul summed up his rejection of #1: “The neutral view of free will is impossible.” (Ibid., 59)

Isn’t it easier to believe, however, that Adam and Satan fell from a neutral state rather than from a state in which they were inclined toward good? If God did not cause them to sin, then they were somehow able to generate a bias toward sin. Dr. Norman Geisler, a non-five-point Calvinist, wrote Chosen But Free in response to Dr. Sproul’s Chosen By God. Dr. Geisler focused his attention on Satan’s free will at one point in the book:

“For the strong (extreme) Calvinists the ultimate question is: Who made the devil do it? Or, more precisely, who caused Lucifer to sin? If free choice is doing what one desires, and if all desires come from God, then it follows logically that God made Lucifer sin against God! But it is contradictory to say that God ever could be against God. . . . Consequently, some less strong Calvinists claim that God does not give any evil desires but only good ones. However, this view has two problems. First, why would God give a desire to do good only to some and not to all? If He is all-loving, then surely He would love all, as the Bible says He does (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Second, this does not explain where Lucifer got the desire to sin. If it did not come from God, then it must come from himself. But in that case, his original evil act was self-caused, that is, caused by himself—which is exactly the view of human free will the strong Calvinist rejects.”

Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1999), 20-21.

In response to Dr. Geisler’s Chosen But Free, Dr. James White, a five-point Calvinist, wrote The Potter’s Freedom. Dr. White did not address the issue of whether or not Adam and Satan had free will before their falls, except to quote from the Second London Confession of Faith of 1689:

“1. In the natural order God has endued man’s will with liberty and the power to act upon choice, so that it is neither forced from without, nor by any necessity arising from within itself, compelled to do good or evil. 2. In his state of innocency man had freedom and power to will and to do what was good and acceptable to God. Yet, being unstable, it was possible for him to fall from his uprightness.”

White, The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 78.

I’m still disappointed by marshmallow stuff in moon pies. I believe that both free will decisions (#1) and free agent decisions (#2) are possible, depending on the circumstances.

2 Comments:

Blogger Stephen Pruett said...

Greetings! On this we agree. I do not base my belief on free will on philosophy, but on the types of considerations you mentioned of Bible texts and characteristics of God. However, it is also the case that Christian theology is philosophically much more satisfying vis a vis other world views only if free will is a part of it. From a point of view of apologetics, I have found it very useful in discussing issues with atheist (and often anti-religious) collegues to suggest that there is no rational basis for ultimate meaning and purpose without two things: true free will and a sufficient reference point (God). The latter comes from the idea that people or things have meaning only in the context of what they mean to those who love them or need them. However, if we were all robots simply responding to our environment (as would be the case if we had no free will), then our love for each other is simply a physiological reaction devoid of real meaning. Thus, only one who is above nature and its limitation is a sufficient reference point. We have meaning because we can freely choose to follow God and to do right or wrong and because God says we have meaning. He is the only entity whose authority is sufficient to validly make such a declaration. The best I have heard from an atheist is, "My life has meaning to me". Of course this is an impression or opinion, not a rational articulation of the origin of that meaning.

Tue Sep 19, 03:58:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Baptist Theologue said...

I agree. If Adam and Satan did not have free will, then they cannot be held responsible for their actions, and God would have to be considered the direct cause (author) of evil, which is unthinkable. I think some five-point Calvinists who deny the possibility of free will have trouble dealing with atheists and agnostics, as you said. The famous five-point Calvinist Arthur Pink (1886-1952), who wrote articles in the monthly magazine "Studies in the Scriptures," said that Adam was in equipoise (an unbiased position) before his first sin:

"In unfallen Adam the will was free, free in both directions, free toward good and free toward evil. Adam was created in a state of innocency, but not in a state of holiness, as is so often assumed and asserted. Adam’s will was therefore in a condition of moral equipoise: that is to say, in Adam there was no constraining bias in him toward either good or evil, and as such, Adam differed radically from all his descendants, as well as from 'the Man Christ Jesus.'"

Of course, five-point Calvinists who deny true free will (generating a bias from a position of equipoise) pose a tough question for me to answer: How does a person in equipoise generate a bias from an unbiased position. I cannot explain how that works. Nevertheless, that is what happened with Adam and Satan. Satan, especially, is illustrative of free will. He was in a perfect environment. There was no evil inside or outside of him before sin was found in him. Somehow he was able to generate a bias toward evil. The evil inclination had to come either from Satan or from God. The only satisfactory choice is to say the evil inclination was generated from Satan himself. I don't think we have to explain how Satan generated that evil inclination from an unbiased position.

Tue Sep 19, 05:02:00 PM 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home