Great Quotes: Thomas Ralston on Calvinist Arguments Against Free Will Based on Greatest Motive Force

Let us now contemplate these motives which are said to act upon the mind so as necessarily to influence the will. Let us look them full in the face, and ask the question, What are they? Are they intelligent beings, capable of locomotion? Are they endued with a self-moving energy? Yea, more: Are they capable of not only moving themselves, but also of imparting their force to something external to themselves, so as to coerce action in that which could not act without them? If these questions be answered in the negative, then it will follow that motives, considered in themselves, can no more act on the mind so as necessarily to determine the will, than a world can be created by something without existence. If these questions be answered in the affirmative, then it will follow that motives at least are free agents – capable of acting without being acted upon, and endued with self-controlling and self-determining energy. Necessitarians may fall upon either horn of the dilemma; but upon which horn soever they fall, their system must perish.

If the attempt be made to evade this by saying that motives do not act themselves, but God is the agent acting upon man, and determining his will through the instrumentality of motives – if this be the meaning, then I demand, why not call things by their right names? Why attribute the determination of the will to the influence of motives, and at the same time declare that motives are perfectly inefficient, capable of exercising no influence whatever? Is not this fairly giving up the question, and casting “to the moles and to the bats” the revered argument for necessity, founded upon the influence of motives?

Again, to say that motives exercise no active influence, but are only passive instruments in the hands of God by which he determines the will by an immediate energy exerted at the time, is the same as to say that God is the only agent in the universe; that he wills and acts for man; and, by his own direct energy, performs every physical and moral act in the universe, as really and properly as he created the worlds; and then that he will condemn and punish men everlastingly for his own proper acts! Is this the doctrine of philosophical necessity? Truly it is. And well may we say this is fatalism! This is absurdity!

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

For the beginning of the series, see here.

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3 Responses

  1. I just realized that I had already made a post about this quote back in 2009. Oh well, it is certainly worth highlighting again.

  2. Thank you for posting it! I hadn’t seen it then and appreciate it. But it would be nice if someone could summarize it in more modern language.

    I would ask us to examine the claim that Theological Determinism = “philosophical necessity”. That being said, I think the assertion that Theological Determinism is not equal to fatalism, although true, is based upon a very subtle and misleading technicality.

    I would suggest, Theological Determinism and Fatalism although technically not the same exact entity, are of the same philosophical species, just like “McIntosh” and “Granny Smith”. are apples. They are both doctrines of inevitability which nullify TRUE agency.

    And this explains why Calvinists consistently speak necessitarian propositions when enunciating their view of divine sovereignty. Theological Determinism and Fatalism are like two parallel lines which within Calvinist language consistently cross over each others boundaries.

    On the SOT101 blog, a committed Calvinist there posted: “Theological Fatalism has an all knowing all sovereign God, what could be better!”

    I would also like us to consider the degree to which William Lane Craig recognizes that Calvinism conditions its adherents into a very specific “psychology”. Can we discuss the degree to which Calvinism’s psychology is plagued with double-think and denialism.

    I would also appreciate if we could discuss Calvinist claims that in their system man is not compelled by “external” forces. Wouldn’t this assertion entail god’s decrees as having no force? If God decrees a man choose [A] and then he “renders certain” that man chooses [A], then isn’t’ God exerting some kind of supernatural force? Otherwise, the Calvinist is effectively left with Molinism, which Calvinists might punt to, as a temporary escape clause, only to later forcibly reject….another example of double-think.

    Thank you very much for your post!!! :-]

  3. Here is an interesting early Christian writing that refers to divine determinism as fatalism which would make God the author of sin:

    “Now those who decide that man is not possessed of freewill, and affirm that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate…are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.” Methodius of Olympus: The Banquet of the Ten Virgins xvi (c. 260-martyred 311)

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