Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part VIII

I have been journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved" with a posture of openness to what the author has to say and honesty concerning my criticism of it. The current section is called "Puppets". In it Clark responds to the charge that Calvinism reduces men to mere puppets.

He begins with a brief defense of Presuppositionalism and a reiteration of his previous claim that Calvinism is positively deterministic. He explains that the London Baptist Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith in historical context, regardless of any "free will" looking language, condemn free will and espouse determinism.

To explain why the LBC and WCF contain some "free will" looking language, Clark draws again from the writings of the baptist John Gill. He starts by clarifying that Calvinistic determinism is distinct from materialistic determinism (likes Hobbes'). So, for example, while the planetary bodies may be materialistically determined by their initial conditions and physical laws (and the occasional miracle), human behavior is not completely determined by antecedent material conditions and physical laws. Rather, the means by which God determines human behavior is supernatural.

This difference is what accounts for the use of terms like "natural liberty" and "free agency" in the creeds.

To reiterate for the sake of clarity, Clark believes that mankind is "free" in two senses:

1. Man is free from coercion, because divine determination never goes against a human's will. Rather, God determines everything that each man wills. God's predestination establishes man's will.

2. Man is also free from material causation. No human being's behavior is completely determined by his biology as it interacts with its environment. Humans are free from the natural laws that govern things like planets.

It is this conscious "will" that humans have that makes them different than unconscious machines or puppets: the behavior of a robot is mechanically predetermined, and the behavior of a puppet may be actively determined, but it is still physically determined. Humans have the distinction of having conscious wills that are supernaturally determined.

But though terms like "will" and "agency" signify the distinct way by which human behavior is determined by God, they do not imply anything close to Free Will. Free Will holds that a will may be free from external determination altogether.

I learned a little bit about the historical Calvinistic understanding of agency from this section, and am glad of it. Some of the language in the LBC and WCF bothered me when I was a Calvinist, but now I understand how it coheres.

The problem, of course, is that none of this answers any of my objections. Whether or not human beings are determined naturally or supernaturally, they are still determined. And, being determined, they cannot be praised or blamed or held responsible for their actions. They may be unlike puppets or robots in having conscious wills, but they remain like them in their being determined, and that's what carries the force of puppet and robot objections.

Post Script

Clark believes that no human is ever determined against his or her will, because the very activity of each human's will is determined. I wonder what he would say about those of us who not only believe in libertarian free will, but would prefer it to determinism.

If we are in fact being determined the way Clark says we are, aren't we then being determined against our wills? I think Clark would say that God is causing us to desire not to be determined. And since, as a result of God's determining work in us, we do in fact desire not to be determined, He is not causing us to desire anything that we don't desire. But because of the reflexive nature of the quandary, it can still be possible for God to determine us to desire not to be determined.

In that way, our initial desire not to be determined does not exist against our wills, but that we are are being determined, even determined to desire not to be determined, occurs against our wills. Aside from painting a grotesque picture of God and man, this seems like it counts as "coercion". And while it isn't my biggest problem with Calvinism, I wonder how Clark or one of his followers might deal with it.

See also: How much does God control?

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