Calvinism and free will

 
nonverbal
 
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nonverbal
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23 July 2018 11:02
 

Out of curiosity, I’ve been trying to wade through some of John Calvin’s writings on free will. It’s not easy.

Calvin sets up his non-free will arguments by claiming that original sin destroyed the possibility for a human being, on his own, to be capable of electing to perform any but horrific—or at least degraded—moral acts. However, for someone who understands that Christ’s loving assistance is available as long as they reject their own will, one can live out their life doing what’s good, right, and leading toward the direction of eternal joy. He seems not to have made the claim that human beings are no more self-directed than puppets. Such a notion was apparently too absurd for John Calvin’s sensibilities.

I’ll continue looking at his words, though not nearly enough of them to be able to say much of anything with full confidence. Maybe EN or someone else will be able to help me. If not, I’ll get back to this thread if I discover anything that might be relevant to discussions here.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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23 July 2018 11:56
 

If you’re looking for religious parallels to Harris, you might find Jonathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will interesting.  He’s not exactly a Cavlinist (he’s a Puritan), but if memory from a long long time ago serves, Edward’s position is basically Harris’ determinism, voluntarism, and critique of libertarian free will stated in religious, not secular, terms.  For Edwards, “voluntarism” is the ability to embrace faith in God, the only salvation we have from a predetermined life (for Harris, we use reason to alter outcomes).  The free-will he criticizes is Arminianism, which is essentially what Harris calls “libertarian free will.”  And his main message is that is when it comes to our moral actions, we are “mere machines.”  I don’t know about the consequentialism, and he’s certainly no moral reformer.  But the other three elements are there.

It’s a long read, and the outdated style is rather difficult (again, if memory serves).  But it’s available online, if you’re interested.  I don’t know of any good summaries.

[ Edited: 23 July 2018 12:04 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
EN
 
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EN
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23 July 2018 12:06
 

The seed of Calvin’s writings are in statements about predestination in the NT, especially from Paul and from John’s Gospel, with a few contributions from Luke-Acts.  Furthermore, Augustine’s writings also influenced him. You are correct that he does not see people as puppets, but he sees them as voluntarily following their sinful urges, with no internal brake to stop them.  Thus, if a person has no restraint from sin either within or without (from the church or society), he will voluntarily follow a path that leads to destruction.

I don’t share such a depressing view of human nature with Calvin, as I do think the vast majority of people can do good from their own nature as well as evil.  But I do see us acting voluntarily, following our inclinations (good or bad) that come from a deterministic cause/effect chain. I act voluntarily when I drink a beer, with no internal or external restraints (at some point I am restrained, which keeps me from becoming a drunk).  But my inclination to drink a beer arises due to a chain of events going back to the beginning.

[ Edited: 23 July 2018 13:38 by EN]
 
nonverbal
 
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23 July 2018 12:17
 

Thanks, guys. Your comments are helpful. I’ll continue my reading, though at a snail’s pace.

 
bbearren
 
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23 July 2018 13:19
 

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” — Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

In Calvin’s writings he says that god is not subject to time, but that past, present and future are all present in his sight.  The foreknowledge of god does not necessarily rule out free will, it can mean simply that we have choices, and god knows what our choice will be before we have made it.  In the same way, “predestined to be conformed” can be read to mean that god has determined the time in a person’s life when knowledge of god is revealed to that person.  There’s more, but that’s enough.  I’m not trying to proselytize, just discussing Calvin with whom, as I posted in the other thread in the Philosophy forum, I’m not in complete agreement.

[ Edited: 23 July 2018 13:23 by bbearren]
 
 
nonverbal
 
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23 July 2018 13:36
 
bbearren - 23 July 2018 01:19 PM

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” — Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

In Calvin’s writings he says that god is not subject to time, but that past, present and future are all present in his sight.  The foreknowledge of god does not necessarily rule out free will, it can mean simply that we have choices, and god knows what our choice will be before we have made it.  In the same way, “predestined to be conformed” can be read to mean that god has determined the time in a person’s life when knowledge of god is revealed to that person.  There’s more, but that’s enough.  I’m not trying to proselytize, just discussing Calvin with whom, as I posted in the other thread in the Philosophy forum, I’m not in complete agreement.

That’s very helpful, bb, and I’ll appreciate anything else you might feel like adding here.

 
bbearren
 
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23 July 2018 13:59
 
nonverbal - 23 July 2018 01:36 PM
bbearren - 23 July 2018 01:19 PM

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” — Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

In Calvin’s writings he says that god is not subject to time, but that past, present and future are all present in his sight.  The foreknowledge of god does not necessarily rule out free will, it can mean simply that we have choices, and god knows what our choice will be before we have made it.  In the same way, “predestined to be conformed” can be read to mean that god has determined the time in a person’s life when knowledge of god is revealed to that person.  There’s more, but that’s enough.  I’m not trying to proselytize, just discussing Calvin with whom, as I posted in the other thread in the Philosophy forum, I’m not in complete agreement.

That’s very helpful, bb, and I’ll appreciate anything else you might feel like adding here.

Psalm 139 can be read in the same vein as the reading of Romans 8:28-30:

“For you created my inmost being;
  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
  your works are wonderful,
  I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
  when I was made in the secret place,
  when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
  all the days ordained for me were written in your book
  before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:13-16 — (NIV)

I particularly like the reference to “woven together in the depths of the earth”, which fits in rather well with Carl Sagan’s “We are made of star stuff.”  Interesting perspective from such an ancient tome.  And “all the days ordained for me were written in your book” can be read with that same concept of foreknowledge mentioned earlier.

 
 
EN
 
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EN
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24 July 2018 06:06
 

Augustine greatly influenced Calvin, especially in his position on God’s grace. According to him, without the extension of God’s grace, no one would do anything good. 

“Nevertheless, lest the will itself should be deemed capable of doing any good thing without the grace of God, after saying, “His grace within me was not in vain, but I have laboured more abundantly than they all,” he immediately added the qualifying clause, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” Augustine of Hippo, On Grace and Free Will.

Here Augustine quotes Paul out of I Corinthians 15 regarding his own experience.  It appears that Augustine, and Calvin after him, saw the whole issue of predestination as an operation of grace,

 
bbearren
 
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24 July 2018 07:39
 

If god is not subject to time, if the past, present and future are all present in his sight, then the foreknowledge of god does not necessarily rule out free will, it can mean simply that we have choices, and god knows what our choice will be before we have made it.  In the same way, “predestined to be conformed” can be read to mean that god has determined the time in a person’s life when knowledge of god is revealed to that person.  The following excerpts are a three-legged stool of sorts upon which that hypothesis can sit.

“For you created my inmost being;
  you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
  your works are wonderful,
  I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
  when I was made in the secret place,
  when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
  all the days ordained for me were written in your book
  before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:13-16 — (NIV)

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” — Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” — Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

Determinism can present us with choices, but we are free to choose among those presented to us.  Determinism can mark our path along our personal timeline, and along that path we are presented with nexuses.  Some are crossroads where the choices are keep going straight, turn left or turn right.  Some are forks in the road, where straight ahead is perhaps a more obvious option than a fork to the left or to the right, but the choice is not determined.  And some offer multiple paths, four, five, six or even more, such as choosing a career path amongst many available options.

Still other nexuses can be more of a “Y” in the pathway, where neither option, nor the path we’ve been following, offers us any information upon which to base probabilities of what may lie ahead down either of the paths between which we must choose.  Our own arrow of time won’t let us pause indefinitely at this “Y”, we must make an uninformed choice.  And we do.  And so determinism, as I see it, is only the past, the path along which we have trod; it has very little relevance for the future, other than to offer information upon which we may rely, or by which we may be confused, in making choices that lie before us.  And at some of those Y’s in our paths, determinism has nothing to offer; we are presented with the unknown, yet still we must choose.

 
 
GAD
 
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GAD
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24 July 2018 07:46
 

When your view/argument is based on 3000 year old ignorance, myth, magic and superstition, you know it’s bullshit.

 
 
bbearren
 
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24 July 2018 16:01
 
GAD - 24 July 2018 07:46 AM

When your view/argument is based on 3000 year old ignorance, myth, magic and superstition, you know it’s bullshit.

Interesting observation, GAD, in that your observation is bullshit.  The one problem with your observation is that my POV in this regard hasn’t changed since my days as an atheist.  It was never based on scripture.

Determinism can present us with choices, but we are free to choose among those presented to us.  Determinism can mark our path along our personal timeline, and along that path we are presented with nexuses.  Some are crossroads where the choices are keep going straight, turn left or turn right.  Some are forks in the road, where straight ahead is perhaps a more obvious option than a fork to the left or to the right, but the choice is not determined.  And some offer multiple paths, four, five, six or even more, such as choosing a career path amongst many available options.

Still other nexuses can be more of a “Y” in the pathway, where neither option, nor the path we’ve been following, offers us any information upon which to base probabilities of what may lie ahead down either of the paths between which we must choose.  Our own arrow of time won’t let us pause indefinitely at this “Y”, we must make an uninformed choice.  And we do.  And so determinism, as I see it, is only the past, the path along which we have trod; it has very little relevance for the future, other than to offer information upon which we may rely, or by which we may be confused, in making choices that lie before us.  And at some of those Y’s in our paths, determinism has nothing to offer; we are presented with the unknown, yet still we must choose.

But do keep blowin’ it out your ass GAD, Butt Fairy style, it’s quite humorous and I can’t smell anything from here, so it’s all good.