The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #3: We Choose by ‘Chance?’

Related Fallacies:
Begging the Question
Special Pleading [given that God has power of contrary choice]
False Dichotomy

If all men are neutral in prevenient grace was it by chance that one believed and not another? – [A Prayer That a Synergist Won’t Pray (An Open Challenge to All Synergists) – yet another winner by John Hendryx]

This is another particularly odd assertion from Calvinist apologetics. Since free will is a mechanism that we can’t just model out with complete precision or fully explain the inner workings of, some Calvinists make the inference that choices in the libertarian view must be completely random! This argument in and of itself has logical difficulties, but we’ll hold off exploring those until we first account for the coherence of free will within Christian theology. Many Calvinists object to the idea of libertarian free will on philosophical grounds, claiming that it’s illogical or impossible. Such philosophical objections might hold water in a materialist or non-theistic paradigm, but don’t fare so well when compared to the Christian view, as most all of them run aground of the attributes of God Himself.

Problems With This Logic

In my first post on Calvinistic fallacies, I cited the fact that God possesses free will as evidence that such a concept as contrary choice is indeed logically tenable; I’ll elaborate on that concept some here. If God Himself truly serves as the primary example of contrary choice, then this demonstrates that libertarian free will/power of contrary choice, when properly defined, is a logically sound concept. The second key concept is whether it’s possible that God has endowed men with a similar power of contrary choice. My goal here is not so much to quantify exactly how free will works, but to demonstrate that it’s not unreasonable to believe that God has granted men some degree of it.

The two main questions then are:

1. Does God have power of contrary choice?

2. Is God capable of creating creatures endowed with an even remotely similar capability?

If these two questions can be answered affirmatively, then no logical objections against the concept of libertarian free will can effectively be made. The answer to the first question is fairly obvious, consider just a few of the ramifications if God has no power of contrary choice:

* God could not have chosen to create anything differently than He has; meaning that He was, by some principle or another, compelled (could not have chosen anything but) to create each of us.

* God electing, saving, and glorifying certain people occurred of necessity that He Himself was subject to; He could not truly have chosen to do otherwise, meaning that He effectively had to save specific individuals.

How flattering a philosophy would that be? It was absolutely necessary for God Himself to not only create me, but He really had no other choice but to elect, save and glorify me? Such a belief is not only a dreadful offense to the sovereignty and independence of God, but an unbelievably man-centered view of salvation, and therefore untenable as Christian doctrine. If God chose to save us, yet was entirely capable of choosing otherwise, then it inevitably follows that God does have power of contrary choice of some kind.

As to the second question, beyond conceptual absurdities (e.g. another like Himself, rocks too big for Him to lift), there’s really no legitimate basis to conclude that God is limited in what He can create.

Given the ramifications above, since God must have power of contrary choice in some capacity, there are no sound logical reasons for concluding that contrary choice itself is such a conceptual absurdity. And since we (in the Christian view of free will) weren’t created as invincibly autonomous gods, but as free agents still subordinated to God’s own divine will, there are then no apparent logical difficulties with the idea of Him endowing His creations with similar capability, and hence it’s no leap of logic to conclude that God is capable of creating creatures who possess some degree of contrary choice as well.

Going back to the ‘choices by chance’ fallacy, some Monergists such as Hendryx suggest that if free will choices aren’t necessitated by factors outside of the will, then our self-determination must have been by ‘chance’ (or randomness/luck/chaos/etc). Again applying this assertion to the case of God’s will to see whether it holds up consistently, the question must be asked: Given that God has power of contrary choice, and nothing compelled Him to choose one way or another, are we then to conclude that God’s choices (such as election) are by ‘chance’ as well? If so, this would make salvation ultimately due to some bizarre metaphysical lottery, and even worse, it would subordinate the sovereign God’s will (and hence God Himself) to this mystical ‘chance’ force.

Of course Calvinists would be quick to correct such a sentiment, insisting that there is nothing chaotic or random about God’s choices — with which I would wholly agree. But if nothing necessitated God’s decisions, and they are at the same time not chaotic, then per the argument above, why exactly couldn’t God allow people the capability to freely make decisions in similar fashion? To argue that the concept of contrary choice that isn’t random is logically coherent when it comes to God, but suddenly becomes incoherent when we’re talking about human beings is no more than the fallacy of special pleading (unwarranted selective application of the rules).

To point out yet another glaring error undergirding this line of reasoning, to argue that libertarian decisions would have to be derived from chance is to again beg the question of determinist necessitation, it simply shifts the external determining factor from divinity to chaos. Thus this particular Calvinist oddity effectively states,

“Chance must necessitate choices if they’re not necessitated!”

Which is again, utterly absurd.

In short, free will is neither Turing machine nor tempest. It’s a category unto itself that we would be mistaken to assume must fit into either of these molds. God’s will is certainly not an unstructured whirlpool of directionless or unintelligent chaos, but nor is it a mere finite-state automaton. It’s something wonderfully different that simply isn’t comparable to such paltry, lifeless phenomena; and it’s a hopelessly befuddled and mendicant philosophy that concludes that those He created in His image can only be either robots or random number machines.

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16 Responses

  1. Hello JT,

    You are continuing to present a great series on the issue of free will. I am surpised that you have not had an emotional and defensive response from the necessatarians yet. You need to remember that they are desperate people desperately trying to hold onto some false ideas and in denial of reality. That makes them very emotional and hostile when challenged.

    Even before I started studying the issue of libertarian free will (LFW) I always believed people do their intentional actions *****for reasons********. One of my first mentors used to say to me about people’s strange or bad actions: “People always do things for reasons, you may not like the reasons, but they always do things for reasons.” He is absolutley right, and one need not be a sophisticated philosopher or theologian to know this to be true.

    That being so, the fact the necessatarians **often** argue that LFW involves choices done by chance or randomly, merely shows again that they are very desperate people. It also shows they are dishonest people as they have been shown this before and yet continue to present this intentional caricature and misrepresentation of LFW. They often construct a really, really dumb false dilemma when they claim that a choice **must** (must according to whom? them of course! 🙂 ) be either NECESSITATED or be RANDOM/CHANCE.

    Again, as you point out so clearly, a smart way to figure out your conclusions about the existence, rationality and coherence of free will is to look at God Himself. God has and makes choices. His choices are not necessitated nor are they random, and they are always done for reasons. As I pointed out earlier in another post discussion, those who argue that LFW is nonexistent, irrational or incoherent, seem to forget that God himself experiences having and making choices, so we know for a fact that LFW does exist, is not irrational and is not incoherent.

    THEY ALSO SEEM TO NOT UNDESTAND THAT THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD PRESUPPOSES THE EXISTENCE OF LFW. If God does not experience LFW, and his choices are necessitated by some factor ourside of Himself, then He is not sovereign. If He is sovereign and does as He pleases then he experiences LFW.

    Just to bolster you further on this, Alvin Plantinga one of the top Christian philosophers makes this very same claim: look at God and you will see many of the arguments against LFW just disintegrate and appear to be as weak and ineffective as they are (look at his comments in his famous message ADVICE FOR CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHERS, in the section where he talks about persons and free will, he says the deterministic arguments are extremely weak and the Christian philosopher should see that to be the case).

    Keep up the good work JT,

    Robert

  2. Sorry JC,

    I wrote: “Hello JT”, “keepup the good work JT”, perhaps I should just consistently ***choose****to say “Josh” so I don’t mess up your name. 🙂

    I’ve got a nasty head cold perhaps I can use that as an excuse!

    Robert

  3. I choose not to be offended if anyone calls me ‘JT.’ Those magical dice must have gotten you off the hook…this time….

  4. When it comes to the question “what makes you choose one way or another” with respect to obedience/acceptance of the gospel, this decisive motif is LOVE for God. This “something” Hendryx asks for is love. Love for God. It is unconditional and absolutely fundamental. There can be no further inquiry about it “why” one loves God. Because God is God. Here is the botton of all searchings for more basic and more fundamental reasons. Here is the bottom: The love for God.

  5. Very thought provoking post.

  6. You asked:

    “1. Does God have power of contrary choice?”

    I ask, “can God lie”?

    I ask, “can God be unfaithful to Himself”?

    Don’t we all agree that God is “Truth”? So there is no reason for such a question as having the power of contrary choice, is there, with regards to God in any situation?

    What is troubling to me about this article is I am trying to think of some Scriptural basis to support your argument. Can you develop a Scriptural basis for your article?

    Without waxing eloquent, can you simply answer your question, “does God have power of contrary choice if, one, He cannot Lie and He has so established that fact with the Word that “He cannot lie” and two, He cannot be unfaithful to Himself, as He teaches us as well?.

    Honestly, it seems to me the article here is laying a justifying ground for something you will do, synergism.

    I will state unequivocally that I have thought out both and I cannot now accept synergistic reasoning for my Salvation. There is nothing I do to contribute to my salvation. I see it is clearly an act of God’s bountiful mercy.

    Are you saying that you contribute something to your salvation? Is that what you mean when you identify yourself as synergistic?

    Thanks.

    P.S.

    I am squeemish when I read things where being false and being dishonest is alledged.

    I believe Jesus is quite clear that we should be careful with judging others as most likely we are guilty too.

    Mat 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
    Mat 7:2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
    Mat 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
    Mat 7:4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
    Mat 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

  7. Michael,

    “does God have power of contrary choice if, one, He cannot Lie and He has so established that fact with the Word that “He cannot lie” and two, He cannot be unfaithful to Himself, as He teaches us as well?.

    Absolutely. Contrary choice doesn’t entail the ability to lie necessarily, it means having power to choose between viable options. The fact that God’s nature precludes Him from dishonesty doesn’t imply that He has only one possible choice in any given scenario, since there are often more choices than lie or don’t lie. The example I posed was that God could have chosen to not create me, nor is He under obligation to save anyone (which salvation by grace — a very scriptural concept — necessarily entails), and hence could have chosen otherwise.

    Honestly, it seems to me the article here is laying a justifying ground for something you will do, synergism.

    Actually, it was about the logical coherence of libertarian free will and the fallacy of thinking people made choices by chance.

    There is nothing I do to contribute to my salvation. I see it is clearly an act of God’s bountiful mercy.

    We view salvation somewhat the same way. We believe faith is a synergistic condition to salvation, but not the work of salvation itself which is performed solely by God.

  8. hmmmm

    I guess I don’t know enough of the divides between the camps as I am totally in agreement that God solely of His Own Choice chose me to believe His report about Who Jesus is, Why Jesus died and Where I will spend eternity when I die.

    Isaiah 53 and Ephesians 2!

  9. […] are constrained by His nature. God’s power of contrary choice (which as we’ve shown, is essential to His sovereignty in election) doesn’t entail Him being able to violate His own Holiness, since that would be outside the […]

  10. Im in agreement with you in principle, but cant an arguement be made that mans fallen nature removes sufficient ability to make contrary choices. Genesis tells us that women’s desire was changed post fall.

  11. Jon,

    I didn’t write this particular post, but your comments don’t seem really related to the what the post is about. Did you read it? As for your question, nobody is denying that our wills and desires are affected by the fall. Arminians hold to total depravity and the need for enabling prevenient grace to overcome that depravity in order to make faith possible. But this post was more about choices in a more general sense and specifically addressed a claim that if we have the power of contrary choice (in any situation), it would render our choice a matter of chance or luck.

  12. Kangaroodort, i dont think my question is at all strange. Of course i read it, you can be polite because im an argreement, but see a weakness to the arguement. I am saying could the fall make contrary choice fail.

  13. Jon, Ben(kangaroos real name) is right. Also he did mention Prevenient Grace.

    Do you know what that is?

  14. I understand completely, i know how to read, and write. I dont know how my question got answered, have a nice day Ben, were on the same team.

  15. Joh, you said: “but cant an arguement be made that mans fallen nature removes sufficient ability to make contrary choices.”

    Then there Prevenient Grace and the fact that us Arminians believe on Total Depravity is mentioned.

    Do you see the connection?

    But yes, it is off topic.

  16. Jon,

    I’m sorry if my response came across to you as not polite. That was not my intention. Unfortunately, people often do make comments without reading the post.

    As for your question, I would love to try to answer it in a way that satisfies you, but I am still having trouble understanding it. That might be my fault entirely. You ask: “could the fall make contrary choice fail?”

    Can you clarify that? The power of contrary choice only has relevance in the presence of legitimate options. The fall impacts those options, so it does limit what we can do with that God given ability. Or, we could say that it limits the ability by removing certain possibilities.

    I am not sure how what you are saying points out a weakness in the argument. Again, that might be my fault, but feel free to elaborate if you so choose. It might be helpful to highlight something in the post itself and demonstrate the weakness that way.

    God Bess,
    Ben

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