For various reasons, the Calvinist is compelled to divide the concept of "free will" into two possible categories: "Libertarian free will" and "Compatibilist free will."
I was listening to a very good podcast the other day, the host is a man named Jay Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and, interestingly, a cold-case homocide detective. Wallace claims himself to be a Calvinist, and I listened to two shows in particular in which he dealt with these two categories of free will. What follows is a very close paraphrase of his explanations:
Libertarian free will: A human has the ability to choose anything within the realm of possibility, even when the choice that's made is contrary to the person's nature, contrary to the person's inclinations and desires, likes and dislikes.Wallace offers this example as a way of clarifying the Compatibilist view:
Compatibilist free will: A human does have the freedom to make a choice, but he is always restrained by his pre-existing nature, by his inclinations and desires, likes and dislikes.
"In other words, you walk into that pizzeria, you're not going to choose an anchovy pizza, you still have freedom, but you hate anchovies, you don't like them, you dislike them. So therefore you are limited in your choices because you're not going to choose those. You only choose within your nature."
Wallace affirms compatibilist free will and says that the notion of libertarian free will is false.
So, how can we test this idea? Well, it seems to me that if I wanted to show that compatibilist free will is false, I would simply need to demonstrate that I can, in fact, choose to do something that is contrary to my nature, my inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes.
Well, it turns out that I don't have to spend much time conjuring up examples which show that compatibilist free will is false and that libertarian free will is true. For instance:
It is against my nature, my inclinations, my desires, my likes and dislikes, to mow the lawn. And yet, every week or two during the summer I make a choice to mow my lawn. I don't like it, I'd prefer to do something else, I do not consider it pleasant. I have no desire to mow my lawn. And yet, I choose to mow my lawn. That is a choice I make that is contrary to my nature, my inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes.
Similarly, I abhor green beans. They are disgusting, I can hardly believe that anyone would touch them, let alone put one in their mouth. Needless to say, it is inconsistent with my nature, my inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes to eat green beans. And yet, occasionally (very occasionally, I'll admit) I choose to eat them. This choice is contrary to my nature, my inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes.
Let's go the other direction once… I like chocolate chip cookies. It is quite consistent with my nature to eat chocolate chip cookies. And yet, when there are chocolate chip cookies in the house, after I've eaten one or two, and even though I desire, even though I'm strongly inclined to eat a third, or a fourth, or a fifth, I am able to choose to stop eating the chocolate chip cookies.
Every weekday morning I take water exercise classes at a local fitness center. Exercise is against my nature, I am not naturally inclined to exercise, nor am I naturally inclined to transport myself down to the pool at 5:30 every morning. And yet, in spite of the fact that I don't like these things, I choose every morning to do that which is contrary to my nature, my inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes.
As I considered this further, I was struck by how completely obvious this seems to be; that libertarian free will is obviously true and compatibilist free will is obviously false. So then I have to wonder: Why is Jay Warner Wallace persuaded of the opposite? He's a smart guy! And I don't want to jump to conclusions here… if I've missed some important point, I'd like to know about it. So I dug a little deeper. Look at my last example; the water exercise routine. It's true, it's not fun getting up at 5:20 every morning and hauling myself down to the fitness center for the class. I really would rather stay at home; that's my nature. And yet, again, I do choose to go to the class. I was thinking about what Wallace might say if I offered that example, and it occurred to me that he might say that there's another aspect of my nature, my inclinations, etc. that IS being preserved in my choice to violate my inclination to stay home. That other aspect might be that it's against my nature, my inclinations, what I like and dislike, to have back pain and not be able to move around easily. Such is the consequence of not going to the pool regularly. So, my decision to violate one aspect of my nature actually honors another aspect of my nature.
Well, that makes a certain amount of sense… except that this isn't what Wallace claimed, is it? He claimed that humans are only able to choose consistent with their pre-existing nature, and he didn't say anything about competing natures or inclinations. So either his claim is true or it's false. Even if I'm choosing consistent with ONE aspect of my nature, if it is possible for me to choose something that is against another aspect of my nature, then it seems to me that compatibilist free will is still demonstrated to be false.
What it comes down to, I think, is that the compatibilist free will idea is much too simplistic. That is, it seems to overlook the fact that we have multiple competing inclinations, desires, likes and dislikes in operation at any give moment in any given context. I might not be inclined to mow the lawn, however I am inclined to keep my house looking half-way decent. I might be inclined to eat the whole batch of chocolate chip cookies, but I'm also inclined toward improving my health so I can be more comfortable and productive. This compatibilist notion seems to ignore that complexity altogether. No allowance is made for ever choosing contrary to your inclinations… under compatibilist free will, such a choice would be impossible.
On the other hand, the idea of libertarian free will doesn't have any such liabilities. The claim of libertarian free will is that each person is able to make choices that are inconsistent with their inclinations… but notice that allowance is made for making choices consistent with your inclinations as well as making choices that are contrary to your inclinations. This allows multiple inclinations to operate simultaneously, where the person is able to prioritize and uphold those inclinations which the person determines to be most important. And notice that this decision as to priority is itself a choice.
There's one other point that could be made about this notion of compatibilist free will: There is a sense in which the argument is circular. It could be stated this way: You don't have free will because your free will won't allow you to have free will. See, the idea of free will has to do with not being compelled by any force outside of yourself to make certain decisions. It may well be that I didn't consciously decide to detest broccoli the way I do. Certainly, my aversion to vegetables and fruits does seem to be a feature of my personality that I didn't actually choose to acquire, so far as I know. But nobody else compels me to dislike broccoli, either. And again, even though my nature is diametrically opposed to the consumption of broccoli, I have chosen in the past to actually eat it. The point is this: It is me and only me that decides not to eat broccoli, even though under certain extraordinary circumstances I might ultimately choose to eat it.
After very careful consideration, then, I have to conclude that the compatibilist notion of free will is absolutely false and that libertarian free will is obviously true.
The reason this is so important is that it relates to the idea of "Total Depravity" as defined in Reform Theology. And that is what I'll analyze next.