Calvinists regularly argue that mankind is responsible because they make choices according to their own desires. In fact, the Calvinist teaches that individuals will always choose in accordance with his or her “greatest desire.” But, what does that mean exactly? Let’s unpack it.
Ronnie Rodgers expounds on the Calvinist’s argument with all the appropriate citations:
Calvinists believe that man is free to choose according to his greatest desire. For example, Jonathan Edwards believed in what he called “strength of motive.” He said concerning such, “I suppose the will is always determined by the strongest motive.”Therefore, Edwards argued that one freely chooses to act according to his “strongest motive.” Regarding the nature of free choice, he also said that it is “the ability to do what we will, or according to our pleasure.”
Consequently, according to Edwards, man’s freedom to choose is determined by his nature and his desires. In other words, man is free to choose to do his greatest desire. Of course, this is the Calvinist view of free will as defined by compatibilism. It is important to note two very important components of this view. First, the desire or nature from which the desire emanates is not chosen—i.e. a person’s past. Second, the unchosen desire is in fact determinative of what the free choice will be.
That is to say, the Calvinist believes man is free to choose according to his greatest desire but not contrarily. Therefore, his free choice is actually determined by his desire. For example, according to Edwards, sinful man will always freely choose to do his greatest desire, which is to sin. The greatest desire is a part of his nature. Fallen man will never choose to follow Christ without first having his nature changed to emanate new desires; this is the basis for the Calvinist position that regeneration precedes faith.
In a recent online discussion, Dr. Johnathan Pritchett made a strong case against Calvinist’s position on this point:
Theological argument – In order for person X to freely choose Y, God has to ensure that person X has the desire to only choose to do Y so Y obtains, because like all things, God decreed Y. If God ensures Y, and Y is sin, then God caused X to sin because there are any number of other things that could obtain if X had different desires, even other sinful ones. But God decreed X to do Y, not anything else. The only way Y obtains is if God works all things to ensure it and nothing else. As such, God caused X to commit sin Y. This is bad theology.
Philosophical argument – If compatiblism is true, then free will is the will of man choosing in accordance to the strongest desire. If so, then it is circular and therefore irrational and must be abandoned.
Here is the circle:
People choose according to their strongest desire, and we know it was their strongest desire because they chose it, and they chose it because people choose according to their strongest desire, and we know it was their strongest desire because they chose it, and they chose it because people choose according to their strongest desire, and we know it was their strongest desire because they chose it…and so on.
It is a baseless, unprovable assertion. At most, we could say that “the prevailing desire prevails,” but this is a trivial claim and a mere truism that says nothing about the strength or lack thereof regarding the desire acted upon. It only states that the desire acted upon was the desire acted upon, but that doesn’t tell us anything. In fact, in experience, people always find themselves choosing according to less than their strongest desire.
Biblical argument – If the theological argument above is correct, then God causes Y. But the Bible teaches “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” James 1:13-15
That desire can’t come from God ensuring it is present for agent X to choose Y, because the Bible teaches that the desire for Y comes from man, not God. But in order for X to chose sin Y instead of sin Z, God has to make sure the desire for Y is strongest in X so that X chooses according to God’s decree. This contradicts Scripture that clearly teaches that X’s own desire for Y comes from himself.
Romans 7:15 states, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” How in the world does it make sense for someone to choose to do what they hate and it be labeled “their strongest desire?” This is just unBiblical nonsense.
As such, because of these three, either taken individually or in whole, compatiblism is bad theology, bad philosophy, and bad Biblical understanding and should therefore be rejected by all Christians on pains that:
1. It makes God the author of evil.
2. It is irrational.
3. It contradicts plain statements in Scripture.
What are your thoughts?