The Necessitarian Calvinist Argument From Strongest Motive Force is Based on Circular Reasoning

Indeed, the whole treatise of Edwards, in which he has written three hundred pages on the human will, is based upon this blunder. His almost interminable chain of metaphysical lore, when clearly seen in all its links, is most palpably an argument in a circle. He assumes that the mind is similar to matter, in order to prove that it can only act as acted upon; and then, because it can only act as acted upon, he infers that, in this respect, the mind, like matter, is governed by necessity. Although he turns the subject over and over, and presents it in an almost endless variety of shape, it all, so far as we can see, amounts to this: The mind, in its volitions, can only act as it is acted upon; therefore the will is necessarily determined. And what is this but to say that the will is necessarily determined, because it is necessarily determined? Can any real distinction be pointed out between the labored argument of Edwards and this proposition? But we shall soon see that this assumed position – that the mind can only act as it is acted upon – is philosophically false, This grand pillar upon which the huge metaphysical edifice has been reared, may be shown to be rotten throughout, yea, it may be snapped asunder by a gentle stroke from the hammer of reason and common sense; and then the edifice, left without foundation, must fall to the ground.

From: Thomas Ralston on the Freedom of the Will Part 9: The Doctrine of Motives

The affirmation, that the greatest motive invariably governs, is a mere assumption, incapable of proof. We ask, how does any one know that he is governed by the greatest motive? The answer, and the only answer possible, is, that he is thus influenced. But, how does he know that he is thus influenced? Because the greatest motive governs. And thus the assumption is the proof, and the proof the assumption, and finally they are both assumptions, incapable of any proof. This is reasoning in a circle with a short curve. It is simply saying that we know how man is influenced, because we know the nature of the cause; and we know the nature of the cause, because we know how he is influenced.

From: Ransom Dunn: A Discourse on the Freedom of the Will 

Also, the Calvinist (at least those who follow Edwards) begs the question with regards to choosing according to our greatest desires. Well, how does the Calvinist know this? How do they know we never make choices according to an inferior motive or desire? The answer: the choice always reflects the greatest desire, or else the choice would not be made, since we choose according to our greatest desire (which is circular and reveals a tautology, “the prevailing desire always prevails” or “the prevailing desire is the prevailing desire”, etc.- which isn’t saying much).

It reduces to a bare assertion. It is our greatest desire because we choose it, and we choose it because it is our greatest desire. Therefore, “choice” and “greatest desire/strongest motive” become conflated so that the claim is simply “we choose because we choose”, or “we choose according to our choice”. And yet Calvinists try to paint Arminians as illogical because they believe the Arminian position amounts to “we choose because we choose”. That is not an accurate description of the Arminian view, while it is essentially what the Calvinist, who lodges the objection, actually believes.

It is also interesting that many Calvinists complain that Arminians base their arguments for free will on intuition, while appealing to intuition concerning the belief that we always choose according to our greatest desire…

From Comment Section of The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics -Fallacy #1: “If we have libertarian free will, what makes us choose one way or the other?”

About these ads

12 Responses

  1. Very, very nicely done. I had a similar conversation yesterday on this very matter — with an acquaintance of mine who has decided to adopt Calvinism — in connection with “irresistible” grace.

    I asked him how he knew that God had only called and thus irresistibly drew him unto Himself at the moment of His conversion and at no other time prior (which he would have, then, resisted). He stumbled through an answer. He kept repeating, “I would have never come to Him if He had not irresistibly drawn me.” I asked how he knew that. He answered, “Because a person must be irresistibly drawn in order to be saved.”

    So, evidently, Irresistible Grace is true because a person must be irresistibly drawn in order to be saved. It’s so clear to me now! Evidently, if one merely keeps repeating the same notion using varying phrases or words, the notion is true.

  2. Billy is correct:

    “I had a similar conversation yesterday on this very matter — with an acquaintance of mine who has decided to adopt Calvinism — in connection with “irresistible” grace.
    I asked him how he knew that God had only called and thus irresistibly drew him unto Himself at the moment of His conversion and at no other time prior (which he would have, then, resisted). He stumbled through an answer. He kept repeating, “I would have never come to Him if He had not irresistibly drawn me.” I asked how he knew that. He answered, “Because a person must be irresistibly drawn in order to be saved.”
    So, evidently, Irresistible Grace is true because a person must be irresistibly drawn in order to be saved. It’s so clear to me now! Evidently, if one merely keeps repeating the same notion using varying phrases or words, the notion is true.”

    Calvinists tend to think by means of certain propositions that when repeated over and over become their mantras. Like the personal incantations/”mantras” given by Gurus to their adherents/followers to chant repeatedly. And when strongly held these phrases lead to these circles of thinking that turn in on themselves.

    The one being discussed here is the proposition that: only those who receive irresistible grace come to Christ and believe. So if you did not believe you did not receive this irresistible grace, if you did believe you had to have experienced this irresistible grace. It is like a circle that goes around and around. Evidence, including biblical evidence, means nothing if the person is committed to their “mantra”.

    Another one is: regeneration precedes faith. So according to Calvinism you have faith after you were regenerated because the regeneration produced your faith. If you don’t believe then you have not been regenerated. And according to Calvinism only the preselected elect will be regenerated since according to calvinism God chooses in eternity who is elect and hence who is regenerated which then produces their faith. You have these circles that just go around and around and are impervious to counter evidence or even reality. These circles also overlap and strengthen each other.

    It is almost cultic in the way some idea is repeated over and over until the person comes to believe it, even though the idea is false and if available evidence were carefully considered would be rejected as false. But don’t try telling that to the adherent under the spell of the guru or the adherent that repeatedly chants his Calvinistic “mantras” like “regeneration precedes faith” etc. etc.

    Robert

  3. Hello Ben,

    One other thing. The quotes you provide show that Edwards’ famous claim that: we always choose the strongest desire. Is also one of those Calvinistic mantras they keep repeating to themselves. Edwards defines the choice that we end up making: as always choosing our strongest desire. So what it amounts to is that whatever you in fact choose was your strongest desire. So by definition whatever you choose was your strongest desire since your strongest desire is whatever you choose! :-)

    The problem though is that Edwards leaves out how one particular desire becomes the strongest desire in our deliberative process.

    Say I am deciding between going to a BBQ restaurant for dinner or a Mexican food restaurant for dinner. If I pick the BBQ place Edwards says THAT is my strongest desire. If I pick the Mexican food place Edwards says THAT is my strongest desire. So Edwards is merely giving us a tautology, whatever we in fact choose is referred to as our strongest desire. But that does not tell us much.

    The real question, completely left out of Edwards’ analysis is how one possible choice becomes the strongest desire rather than the other possible choice. Look throughout his book and you will not find this anywhere.

    Say I end up choosing the BBQ restaurant: why did I choose that one rather than the other one? Agent causal explanations have a ready explanation: you choose for reasons, and you have the ability to prefer one reason rather than another.

    I go even further and say that each possible choice has “importances” attached to it. Say the importances connected to the BBQ place include that (1) it is closer to home, (2) I have a 50% off coupon for one item, (3) the food is great, (4) the food is expensive. And say the importances connected to the Mexican food place include (1) I know the manager there, (2) My wife wants to go there tonight, (3) it is close to a store where my wife wants to shop at. So if I am choosing rationally I will consider the importances connected with each choice, and then make my decision (which in this case is go to the Mexican restaurant so that I get good food, good company and she gets to shop where she likes to shop!). :-)

    If we analyze our decisions we will always see sets of competing importances connected with each particular choice. Edwards simply declares the “winner” to be the strongest desire. But that really tells us nothing regarding our analysis of our importances connected with each particular choice.

    You really know someone not only when you know what choices they are considering but also what their importances are. Because we always decide in line with what is important to us. Though our importances do not necessitate our choices.

    Robert

  4. Yes, it’s like the claim that we can only choose according to our nature. Well how do we know that? How do we even know what our nature is? Well, only by the decisions that we make, so when boiled down it just says that we choose as we choose. It’s absolutely true, and says nothing.

  5. Hello all,

    I started to read Edwards’ Freedom of the Will and found his terms and language hard to follow. I’m a still little unclear on the term “necessitarian.” Does it mean that one must do of necessity what his nature commands?

    Billy: In retrospect, that seems to be how I became convinced of Calvinism. I listened to Sproul’s teaching on TULIP repeatedly because I just didn’t get it or agree with it the first time. I thought I was missing something logically. Finally it made sense (because it made sense). I also remember talking with a Buddhist last summer whose logic also seemed to be circular: Some ancient Japanese man had a dream or experience and I couldn’t even get the man to tell me how he knew it to be true. It was like talking to a wall, when he let me speak.

    Robert: thanks for the helpful examples. It seems that all of us, to some extent, start with certain interpretations of Scripture and then they turn into presuppositions. I think this is good when it comes to the truth, but bad when we misinterpret the Bible. One becomes so convinced of an interpretation that it solidifies, and then every other interpretation evolves from there.

    Take 1John5:1: “Everyone who believes (or is believing) that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” The context seems to be that John is talking about those who are presently believing and not about what actually happened when they first believed (i.e. that they were regenerated in order to believe at first). But once you subscribe to irresistible grace, then that is what this verse means too.

    I like the idea of BBQ vs. Mexican. I might really love a nice pulled pork sandwich, but if it’s not in the budget then Taco Bell is good too. There certainly are other influences besides what we most desire. You could also use the example of sexual desire, which is surely one of the strongest of human desires. If I operated on my strongest desires, well let’s just say it wouldn’t be a good thing, but I utilize self-control because I love my wife and want to please God.

    So I used to love my sin, but when faced with the realities of God’s justice for sin, eternity in hell, full pardon in Christ, etc., though I loved my sin with all my heart I didn’t want to forfeit my soul. I knew it was foolishness all the while I enjoyed it. Was it my strongest desire to repent? I’m not sure. I didn’t want to give it up, but I feared for my soul. I cannot overemphasize how in love I was with sin. I have often had a reluctance to put away sin in my life. Calvinists will say that’s because God was irresistibly renewing me, but I don’t know how you could prove that without interpreting scriptures according to your presuppositions. I think I can agree with your final statement: “Though our importances do not necessitate our choices.”

  6. Clarification: “Calvinists will say [the reason I repented was] because God was irresistibly renewing me….”

  7. “I’m not sure. I didn’t want to give it up, but I feared for my soul. ”

    - Hi, an additional “question” would be, why did you fear for your soul? Why do you even believe Heaven or Hell and Islam is “The Way” etc. :D

  8. Rex,

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re driving at. Would you mind clarifying for me?

  9. I’m not sure I understand what you’re driving at. Would you mind clarifying for me?

    I second that. I couldn’t figure it out either.

  10. Hi Ben(and ND)

    This is based on my original question for you from one of the older articles, where I asked why would a person choose Hell or choose not to believe even if they “understood” the choice between heaven or hell.

    And my question was missing the word “Not”, it should have been:

    Why do you even believe Heaven or Hell and Islam is NOT “The Way” to it etc

    I was curious to what ND’s take on that question. Apologies if my question wasn’t clear.

    Thanks,
    Rex

  11. Rex,

    I guess to some extent you’re asking why people choose to believe Christianity over any other religion, in this case Islam, or why anyone chooses to believe heaven and hell as valid claims.

    At the outset I must say that I, for myself, cannot presuppose any religion other than Biblical Christianity as being true. I believe that Christ is the way the truth and the life and he has so worked in me and revealed himself and the Father to me that I cannot, at least humanly speaking, believe any other way. As I have looked at other sects or religions, I have over the course of the past 35 years concluded that all the rest are just not true, including the idea that hell is false.

    As humans made in the image of God, we have the capacity to reason. I personally have dabbled in witchcraft and new age in my teens and found them appealing. They have an allure, and I find them very demonic looking back. My reason is based on Scripture now, and the Bible confirms the reality of the demonic. God tells us how to find the truth and how to decipher the false. In your example, Islam doesn’t amount to much for me because its claims about Christ blatantly negate what Christ said 700 some years prior, and with all the manuscripts available of different NT books that practically say the same thing in multiple languages, I just don’t buy the Muslim claim that the Bible has been tampered with or falsified. It’s a weak argument IMO. Another reason is that the god of Islam is not truly just or holy as the Old Testament says he is.

    God tells us in the Bible that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and of the judgment to come. Paul tells us that by the Law comes the knowledge of sin and that our conscience accuses or excuses us. And we also know that faith comes by hearing the word of the gospel. So when I heard the law and the gospel together nearly 10 years ago, the entire gospel made sense to me in a very heavy way. Hell made sense, and God was holy and just. My conscience broke under the power of God’s Spirit. Now, was it unconditional? I must not say yes or no based on experience but on Scripture–and I personally am still trying to iron that question out theologically. But, all that to say why I believed.

    As far as why others don’t believe, sin is deceitful and the devil has a grip on people and its much easier to continue in sin than it is to walk in holiness, at least in the eyes of an unbeliever gripping their own particular idols. It’s easier to tell oneself that hell is fantasy so they can continue in sin, or to put it off until another day like Felix did to Paul. I think Ben may have said somewhere that there are many reasons why people choose not to believe or follow Jesus. Hopefully that is what you were getting at…sorry Ben for taking up so much space.

  12. Ah yes, thanks ND. :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers

%d bloggers like this: